Irvine man tells compelling tale of Holocaust experiences.
A crescendo of shrieks from within the darkness greeted us. I thought that I had entered a cage of starved animals. But it was not an animal cage. It was a cage of desperate men who had arrived in Rieben a few days earlier. In desperation they attempted to steal anything edible from us, even if it was only a miniscule crumb of bread.
“Every Holocaust story is unique, but they all have the common threads of survival at all costs and sadness that some people made it out while others did not,” explains Irvine resident Isidor (Isi) Nussenbaum. “Nobody can tell you how it feels to starve, freeze, and have no hygiene unless one has experienced it.”
Isi, whose 61st anniversary of liberation coincided with our interview, knew that he had to tell his story of surviving the Holocaust. Few Holocaust books describe the Riga Ghetto in Latvia. Nobody knew about Camp Rieben, because only three people survived – and Isi learned of the other two at a survivors’ reunion in Jerusalem in 1981. “The experience of hearing about the horrors of the war was so powerful that even strong halutzim at the reunion broke down and cried,” he says. “That was my impetus to write the book. Things I had repressed like tears were flowing freely.”
Writing the book was difficult, he acknowledges. He wept, and his wife of 50 years, Minnie, wept along with him. He came back from Israel and recorded his experiences on tape. Minnie transcribed them on an old Royal typewriter.
Eventually, with the help of family, friends, and other volunteers, none of whom took any remuneration, the document was put on floppy disk, edited, and expanded by Isi. A publisher discouraged him, saying there was no demand for such a book, so he put it away, and then started again.
Isi prevailed, because, as he says in the foreword to the book, “I undertake this obligation to remind the world of the atrocities of which humans are capable.”
Isi’s powerful, poignant book documents his survival against all odds. Like Elie Wiesel’s Night, the images of unthinkable acts in He’s Not Coming Here Anymore: A Survivor’s Story are terrifying, and the sheer magnitude of the horror in graphic detail keeps readers glued to the book for hours on end. Unlike Night, this is the story of a neighbor and friend, a kind and charming man who endured all of the torture simply because he was a Jew in Nazi Germany. Replete with a chronology, a map, documents, and pictures, the book shows the human faces and normal lives undermined – and often destroyed — by the Holocaust.
Born in Bautzen, Germany, in 1927, Isi and his family moved to Breslau (now part of Poland) and then back to Bautzen. In spite of being poor and increasingly restricted from contact with other Germans, he was surrounded by a loving family, behaving like a normal boy, and dreaming of moving to America or Palestine. Deportation changed all of that, subjecting Isi to unimaginable conditions. Finally, there was liberation, but some of the Russian soldiers proved to be just as cruel as the Nazis.
Returning to Bautzen after the war, Isi visited his family’s former landlady, who had a letter from his older brother in America. After immigrating to the United States in 1948, he pursued a degree in mechanical engineering and worked in the aerospace industry. Working his way through college, he sometimes hitchhiked to classes. Now retired, the Nussenbaums have two daughters – Doris, a doctor of internal medicine in Chicago, and Sharon, a professor and counselor at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.
Isi harbors no hatred against the German population. He is especially touched that the people of Bautzen, which no longer has a Jewish population, nonetheless say kaddish for the Jews at the Jewish cemetery that remains there.
“I can forgive people, but I can’t speak for the 6 million who were killed,” he says. He does have three dreams. He wants to see the woman who took care of him after liberation. He wants to visit his hometown, stand between the goalposts of the soccer field he and fellow Jews were kept from using, and have people apologize to him. Finally, he wants to go back to the area where he was liberated and properly say kaddish for his brother.
Beth Jacob Congregation, of which Isi is a member, will hold a book signing and wine and cheese reception with Isi on April 25 at 6:30 p.m. to commemorate Yom HaShoah.
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