150,000+ books sold. Groundbreaking World War II and Holocaust narrative history.
And it is all TRUE, as told in our veterans’ and survivors’ own words, intimately, just you and the speaker at a kitchen table over a cup of coffee, tea, or a bottle of beer.
I was born 16 years after the killing stopped, and the day is fast approaching when no one with firsthand memory of World War II will be alive.
Most will have gone the way of the World War I and Civil War generation without ever having told the tale outside of their own brothers and sisters who experienced it with them. So, thank you for reading my books; they are the culmination of a mission that for me turns out to have been lifelong. If you actually read them to the end, you will have done something important—you will have remembered a person who may be now long dead, a veteran who may have lived out his or her final days wondering if it was all worth it.
You probably won’t find my books on the New York Times Bestsellers List, because I never shopped them to Big Publishers in the hopes of fortune and fame; I was too busy teaching history to our young people.
I’m not a professional historian, though at one time I was on that track; I was just an ordinary schoolteacher who recognized the extraordinary achievements of the witnesses and survivors of the most tumultuous period in the annals of mankind. And these people were our teachers and coaches, shopkeepers and carpenters, millworkers and mechanics, nurses and stenographers, lawyers and loggers, draftsmen and doctors, people from every walk of life, grade school dropouts and college graduates. They were the World War II generation, and there was a time when sixteen million of them were in uniform.
As a teacher of history, I felt a responsibility to make what for many kids was the dullest subject come to life.
So early in my career, I took it upon myself to devote more than the ‘suggested’ hour or two for the study of World War II in the classroom. It culminated in conversations that I and our young Americans had a hand in coaxing out of the generation that saved the world for us. Over the years I became well-versed in the story of World War II, mainly from the American perspective because I had to be able to understand our interviewees’ stories in the proper context. I also taught my students the skills of critical questioning and post interview analysis and follow-up, corroborating events and incidents wherever possible.
That is not to say that a broad multi-national grounding in the history was secondary to my research. In my travels as a young man, I was brought to stand before the gates of Leningrad at the massive Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, where nearly a half-million people lay buried in 186 mass graves, killed in just 900 days. As an American traveling in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it was a required, and sobering, stop, made all the more dramatic when I recognized that in this one place—in just one Soviet city—lay more World War II dead than the number of American military dead in every theater of the United States’ three years, eight months, and twenty-two days at war. When one really delves into it, the history of World War II can be so overwhelming as to be staggering; in my talks on trying to grasp the magnitude of the Holocaust, I’ve likened it to entering a room with a dozen doors. Open one, and you find yourself in another room, with another dozen doors to enter.
And I entered through one of those doorways, which turned out to be a portal to the past when I investigated a long-forgotten incident of World War II and the Holocaust that culminated in the re-uniting of some 275 survivors of a Nazi death train with the actual American soldiers who liberated them from it, in one of the most dramatic photos taken in the 20th century.
It is an amazing story, and like all my books, my job as an interviewer and an author is to help these men and women open that door just a crack for us, just to get a glimpse of what they did that would shape our world to come.