| | Monday, July 6, 2009

On Friday, July 10 at 7 pm, Northtown Books welcomes Ursula Osbourne, who will talk about her translation of Heinrich F. Liebrecht's memoir, Not To Hate But To Love, That Is What I Am Here For: My Path Through The Hell Of The Third Reich.

She recently talked to the Times-Standard about the book:
Liebrecht became a friend of Osborne's parents in Hamburg, after she and her two younger siblings had been sent to safety in England. Her parents were fortunate: In 1941 they obtained a U.S. visa and left Germany, among the very last Jews to escape Nazi-occupied Europe. For Liebrecht and his family, the border was sealed.

A long search for legal and illegal escape proved futile for Liebrecht, his wife, Lies, and their infant daughter, Eva-Maria. Liebrecht was arrested. Lies placed Eva-Maria with a trusted friend, then committed suicide.

During interrogations, Liebrecht endured brutal beatings and near starvation until he was sent to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. There, as was to prove true throughout his entire ordeal, he found inspiration. Even though many -- Germans and prisoners alike -- sank to subhuman levels, others displayed courage and humanity amid the deprivation and disorder.

”Despite these miserable circumstances,” Liebrecht wrote, “the accomplishments
by camp inmates are as worthy of remembrance as any other honorable acts of this war.”

Physicians stemmed the tide of epidemics, youth leaders schooled children, and workers of all descriptions strove to improve physical conditions. Musicians, writers and other artists, along with philosophers and clergy, nurtured spiritual and artistic enlightenment.

Among them was the kind-hearted chief rabbi of Germany, Dr. Leo Baeck, to whom Liebrecht, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, was most grateful. It was Baeck's philosophical lectures that were known for their depth and clarity that helped him stay connected to faith and reason -- reason to stay alive.

”That is where the wellsprings of our strength lay, that is where the conviction grew that we still had some kind of calling,” he wrote. “From here came the impulse to really endure, and the belief that we were able to do so.”

Liebrecht's mother arrived in the camp, unwell but content to spend her last days near her son. Later, his toddler daughter and her caretaker also arrived at Theresienstadt, affording a brief family reunion before Liebrecht's mother died in the infirmary.

Eva-Maria -- whom most at the camp endearingly called “little fawn” -- became sickly when the caretaker was sent to Auschwitz. Again, the determined effort of a fellow camp inmate, a nurse named Böszi, helped the child recover and thrive.

The family's next destination was Auschwitz, where father and daughter were separated. Liebrecht was among the men who avoided the gas ovens and was sent to hard labor at yet another camp -- but only after a dehumanizing physical inspection by the infamous SS physician Josef Mengele.

Life for the survivors was one of unending burden.

”We were no longer human individuals,” Liebrecht wrote. “We were merely numbers ... sad humans, sights of misery.”

In time, rumors of the war's end mounted as refugees flooded past the camp and gunfire grew ever closer. Meager food and medical supplies dwindled even further, weakening the disheartened prisoners. Liebrecht found himself in a sick room with a severely infected foot.

”I saw black in front of my eyes. I lost consciousness,” he wrote. “Then I caught myself: This is not how the end is supposed to be! See it through! Don't give up! Not now -- perhaps it's only a few more weeks before our liberation!”

He was right. The Holocaust ended with the Russians liberating the camp. The grief, however, was not over for Liebrecht: He learned of the death of his “little fawn.” She had been gassed at Auschwitz, along with her beloved Böszi, who despite the opportunity, refused to leave the child's side.

It was a chance reunion with Dr. Leo Baeck, and an in-depth, thought-provoking discussion on vengeance and forgiveness, that lead Liebrecht to find renewed faith to continue on. Yes, Hitler's influence was like an infectious disease that made “the real Germany into an unworthy nation,” Baeck told Liebrecht. But, he added, “injustice cannot be healed by injustice.”

Liebrecht took these words to heart. There was something extraordinary about the man, remembers Osborne, who met him in person in 1969 in Freiburg, Germany, while she and her family lived in Germany for a year.

”He was such a pleasant man,” she said. “Not only my husband and I, but our two sons, aged 14 and 16 at the time, became friends with him. Each of them went back to visit him again.”

Twenty-five years later, a few years after Liebrecht's death, Osborne received a copy of his memoir, which had been published posthumously. Widowed by then, Osborne was temporarily away from her Arcata home, serving in the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea. There, the book gained popularity with her German-speaking colleagues.

In 2003, Osborne formed a California public benefit nonprofit corporation in order to save documentation concerning her family's dispersal all over the globe after Hitler came to power. One of the volunteers helping with this archive expressed interest in writing a book about the family's history. Osborne thought the volunteer would benefit from reading Liebrecht's book.

”So, in January 2008, I started translating it for her, and while working on the translation, I began to realize the book's wider importance and decided I'd like to publish it,” she said.

Osborne believes this memoir will be especially helpful as supplementary reading for college students in a variety of courses. She believes its lessons are as timeless as the advice Baeck gave Liebrecht more than 60 years ago:

”Your task, the purpose of your life,” he said, “is to participate, to the best of your ability, so that brute force, force of any type, is not ever the victor.”


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