“Herman, this is Colin, a producer at the Oprah Show.” The voice was unfamiliar, but Herman thought he remembered the name. He was the young TV guy. One of the staff who had helped Roma and him when they had appeared on Oprah last February. The Valentine’s Day show about inspiring love stories. “Herman,” Colin ventured, “Oprah would like you to come back on the show to explain your side of the story.” “My family does not want me to go on the show. They don’t want me talking to no press.” After 60 years, Herman still carried a thick Polish accent, but he dropped the finer points of English that he had learned after the war, when he ditched Polish, the language of his suffering. “There is a lot of anger and negativity right now. A lot of people are attacking me. They don’t understand.”
“Oprah does not want to attack you, Herman. She just wants you to answer the allegations and tell your side of the story. Clear the whole thing up. Don’t you want to set the record straight?” Colin was reassuring.
“I do but I can’t. Tell Oprah that I am sorry about everything. I do want to explain, but the family doesn’t want me to do it.” Herman felt the bind he was in. He was too nervous to back out of the promise he had made to his family—to stay quiet until the storm blew itself out. “The family lawyer has told me not to do it,” he told Colin now. “Maybe when people are not so angry.”
“Herman, call me if you change your mind.” The producer gave it one last try.
“I will. Thank you. Goodbye.” Herman rushed the goodbye and hung up. He dropped back in his chair, shifting about, bubbling with unease, a helplessness he had not felt in over 65 years. As a child in the camps of Buchenwald and Schlieben, it had been a fact of his life as a Jew that it did no good to explain how you suffered or to ask for understanding. Why make a case for survival to SS? They were so sure that no Jew, not even a Jewish child, had the right to exist. Of course this meshugah over his book was not so serious, he thought. No one is trying to kill me. But there was hate mail from the usual anti-Semites. They were always around to police the world against Jews. Herman read their letters, the emails and blogs. Same message: Die, Jew, die. Of course, what else? But other Jews attacking him too? One letter last week that…No, no, forget it. Why dwell on bad things? He was getting calls from the press like the one just now from Oprah. They said that they wanted to give him a chance to explain himself, but he caught the danger in their invitations. He heard it–that strained note. People claimed that they were sympathetic, but underneath, they seemed ready to pounce. Herman had spent his childhood in a sound garden of terrifying noises, cruel voices with not a single note of mercy in them. He knew the sound of closed, critical minds and deaf, unwilling ears and he heard its murmur now.
Herman went over the problem again, the problem of his book. I am a survivor and I know about suffering, he thought. The book was supposed to be a message of hope that made people feel better. Instead people were getting mad and disgusted. No not everybody, plenty of people support me. But the critics are angry and they make the most noise. What a mess. He couldn’t unravel it. Yes I made a mistake. I have to put it right, I know. But when? Not right now. Herman felt undone by all the hostility and not sure what to do next. He was mute, like in a dream when you try to speak but no words come out. Maybe later, he thought, when people can listen without getting mad. Maybe then I’ll have a chance to say I’m sorry, I’m sorry I disappointed you.
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