“Survivor’s guilt” is part of our lexicon now. But did you know it was first identified in the 1960s as a condition suffered by Holocaust survivors? Can you imagine, feeling such guilt for having survived when no one else — not your parents, your siblings, your friends, people you used to pass in the street — made it out alive? Seeing it as a failure of character that you lived when it’s really a testament to strength?
“… he could not sing because expressing joy wasn’t something he could do.”
Chappaqua’s Ella Scheinwald, an executive and management consultant and principal at NYC Advisors, LLC, is familiar with survivor’s guilt. As a girl she remembers hearing her father scream at night, plagued by nightmares.
Why the nightmares? Zeev Scheinwald, born Wolf ("Zeev" is Hebrew for Wolf), was a survivor of forced Nazi labor. While his family and community from the town of Sochaczew, some 50 miles west of Warsaw, were taken to concentration camps, Zeev Scheinwald was sent to a forced labor camp and used as slave labor to build Nazi munitions. It was a death camp in all but name: Conditions were brutal and thousands died from starvation and torture.
“He would tell me bedtime stories about the Holocaust, adjusted for my age, about his childhood and the anti-Semitism he experienced and about the labor camps,” recalled Ella Scheinwald.
As she got older, the stories and conversations became less fairy tale and more horror.
“I remember feeling as a child that it was my job to fill in for that loss,” recalled Scheinwald. “I wanted to save him and I felt it was my job to save him. It took me many years to understand I could not save him.”
“My father was living and breathing the Holocaust every minute of every day,” Scheinwald continued. ““He lived a full life, a very successful life yet he did not feel he survived it. He had siblings, aunts, uncles, a whole big family — everyone was murdered. Everyone in the community was murdered.
"I remember asking him to sing with me as a child, but he could not sing because expressing joy wasn’t something he could do. While he was seen as strong and powerful by outsiders, I don’t know if he experienced his own strength.”
After her own children were born, Scheinwald urged her father to put everything in writing — his memories, his experiences, the horrors — hoping it would alleviate his pain. Did it succeed in that? Probably not. Nevertheless Scheinwald's father created “bunches of written documents” on whatever topic or memory came to him. Father and daughter worked on it together in the 1990s for a little while; Scheinwald hoped to organize all the documents into one manuscript to leave for her children, but then life got in the way and the project was put aside.
It was only after her father’s death in 2015 that Scheinwald picked up the project again.
“Four years ago,” recalled Scheinwald, “I decided to take a look at the manuscript he and I had been working on and edit it and improve it.”
First to read her finished product were her children and husband.
“I noticed my husband was reading and reading and couldn’t put it down,” she recalled. “He told me I had to find a publisher, that the manuscript read like a suspense novel.”
To quiet her husband, who kept nagging her to get it published, Scheinwald sent a copy to Amsterdam Publishers. The Dutch publisher, which has a Manhattan office, specializes in Holocaust memoirs.
“I told my husband, ‘Who’s going to publish this?’ laughed Scheinwald. “I sent it to [Amsterdam] to show him it was going to get rejected and get him off my back. When they called me and said they would publish it, I was surprised.”
Wolf, A Story of Hate is the book that came out of her father’s notes and memories and Scheinwald finds it very relevant for out time.
“Collective narratives can be changed…”
Why is the story relevant? Because it feels like not much has changed, according to Scheinwald.
“When you feel like a loser, worthless, you turn to rage and hate,” she explained. “I’ve experienced anti-Semitism in this country — even in Westchester.”
According to Scheinwald, when leadership expresses anti-Semitism and racism, it gives the green light to those feeling frustration and rage to act out.
“All of a sudden,” said Scheinwald, “it’s OK to have a narrative of hate, sadly. There’s a lot of anti-Semitism in this country, and it’s popping its head again. This book is timely and scarily relevant.
“We live in a very polarized and hateful society now — and not only in this country. People fall victim without even understanding that they fall victim to this extreme polarization.”
In her book, it's not just the obvious — the Nazi government — with whom Scheinwald places fault in but with the companies who profited off of the Third Reich as well. She points to companies like GM and Ford and even Krispy Kreme’s parent company as examples of those who used slave labor in Hitler’s Germany.
“When a government with the help of companies starts closing in on you, you have nowhere to turn,” said Scheinwald. “Is the well-being of a company more important than the education of a child?”
Nevertheless, Scheinwald is not hopeless when it comes to humanity's future.
“Collective narratives can be changed,” believes Scheinwald. “Years and years ago, many people used to smoke. Today, I personally don’t know anyone. Things can change.”
Scheinwald isn’t done with writing. For her next project, she’s looking at her own experiences as a management consultant for the Vatican, a position she recently held for four years, where she found herself steering the huge organization in whatever needed to be done.
“I want to write a book about this experience,” said Scheinwald, “about how a woman, Jewish and Israeli, became a ‘priest whisperer.’”
Wolf, A Story of Hate is the story of one human being whose life is destroyed by government and corporation. It’s a personal story. It’s a lesson for us all.
Wolf, A Story of Hate is currently available for pre-order at Amsterdam Publishers, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other bookstores. It will be released on May 5 — not coincidentally but quite intentionally — on the 75th anniversary of the American liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where Scheinwald was held, and the day he considered his second birthday.
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