Creating a Holocaust Book About My Grandparents

In early 2022, my family published a book covering the Holocaust survival stories of my paternal grandparents, Sam Newman and Rita Newman, Z”L. The book is available on Amazon: Sam & Rita Newman: Survivor Stories.

Here are some reflections on creating the book.

Why We Created Sam & Rita Newman: Survivor Stories

My grandfather, Sam Newman, gave an 8.5 hour interview in 2014 about his time during the war, including as a prisoner in Auschwitz.  My grandmother, Rita Newman Z”L, also gave a 45-minute interview in 1986 about her story and how she survived the war.

Once the interviews were published on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, I knew that I wanted to do something more with them. At first, I thought I would commission pieces of art depicting scenes from the interviews. I went through a few ideas, but eventually settled on having the interviews transcribed and turned into a book.

Creating the book offered a way to document and preserve the history, bring my extended family together, and create something that could be passed down from generation to generation.

I sent an email out to my family asking for advice on how to get the interviews transcribed and that got the ball rolling. Everyone started to pitch in and it turned into a family project.

I also have to mention that this all started at the height of the pandemic. I had extra time on my hands – and so did my siblings – so I was looking for something meaningful to do with my time.

Lastly, I felt some sense of obligation to create the book. If we, the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, don’t tell their stories, who will?

The number of survivors who are still alive is dwindling quickly and time is running out to capture their stories. My grandfather’s interviewer, Brad Zarlin, remarked that my grandfather’s interview was unusually long and detailed for one recorded as late as 2014.

Documenting the History of My Grandparents

I’m the grandson of four Holocaust survivors, which I consider both a privilege and an obligation. The odds of my grandparents surviving were so low. My paternal grandmother, for example, came from an extended family that included over 170 people, almost all living in a small shtetl called Nowy Korczyn. Only a few family members survived. Telling my grandmother’s story is about preserving the memory of all those who were lost.

I’ve written a couple of online pieces documenting my grandparents’ history. I also created a document for my family with details about each grandparent’s survival story; my hope is that future generations will use it for school projects and continue to pass on the stories.

A Family Project

Creating this book was very much a family project, and it required help from dozens of people. Everyone contributed in their own way.

We collected pictures for the book from our immediate and extended family. We also created a family tree and genealogy section, and collected hundreds of names and birthdates from our extended family.

I have to give a lot of credit to my brother, Avi, who partnered with me on the book from day one. We spent hours and hours over Zoom working on everything from footnotes to the book cover. Avi also managed the transcription process. My other brother, Daniel, did a lot of the typesetting work. There was a lot of coding needed to create the book, and, fortunately, both of my brothers are gifted computer programmers.

My father, uncle, sister, and brothers all worked on the editing. My dad also wrote the epilogue.

The whole experience was a great way for my immediate family to bond. It also helped us connect with a large portion of our extended family. At the conclusion of the project, we had a beautiful 331-page soft-cover book available on Amazon for $8.09.

What I Wish I Knew Before Creating the Book

I knew that creating a book would take a lot of work. However, I had no idea how much time and energy would go into it before the final product was ready. Collectively, my family spent dozens – maybe hundreds – of hours working on this in our spare time.

We were basically starting from scratch. It would have been helpful if we would’ve had a “step-by-step guide” for how to do something like this. There’s a lot that goes into creating a book – a lot of things you don’t think about – from creating a book cover to printing and spacing the pages properly.

I created step-by-step instructions that I share below. I’ve sent them to a few people who’ve told me they’re interested in creating a similar type of book. Hopefully it helps them speed up the process.

Things I’ve Done Previously That Prepared Me to Create the Book

In high school, I did a program called Names Not Numbers, where I had the opportunity to come up with questions and then interview a survivor. It helped spark my interest in the Holocaust and highlighted the importance of collecting survivors’ stories.

Additionally, I was a history major in college – not related at all to what I do professionally – and I took a lot of WWII classes. In one of them, I interviewed a WWII veteran and wrote a paper on an American soldier who liberated a concentration camp in Germany.

Noteworthy Events & Feedback Since Creating the Book

Since my family published the book, there’s been an outpouring of love, pride, and appreciation for it. Many members of our extended family and old friends have reached out to congratulate us and let us know they bought the book.

When we were creating the book, we were mainly doing it for our family. We planned to send copies to our extended family and figured they would be the only ones interested. It turns out that a far wider audience is interested. We never expected to sell so many copies. It definitely helped that we put the book on Amazon and anyone could buy it for $8. With Amazon Prime, the book arrives the next day.

When my father’s first cousin passed away, I paid a shiva call to his son. He told me that he had been bonding with his sister over the book while they sat shiva together; the book includes pictures of his father, Z”L. That moment really touched me.

In general, it’s been great hearing feedback from people who read the book and how they felt so connected to my grandfather as they read it. People have told me that they feel like they really got to know him.

My Grandfather Today

My grandfather is 95 and has dementia, so it’s hard to really know whether he’s aware that we created a book about him. However, when I showed it to him about a year ago, he looked at the book proudly and really enjoyed leafing through the pages.

It was such a gift that he did an 8-hour interview back in 2014. He spoke about very difficult moments in his life, which I’m sure wasn’t easy for him. There were moments when he cried  during the interview, something I’ve never seen him do. I’m sure he’s happy to know that his story will be passed on from generation to generation and that his family members who perished during the Holocaust won’t be forgotten.

What I Learned About My Family History

I learned a number of new details about my family history. For example, I thought that my grandfather’s father worked as a melamed (a cheder teacher) to make ends meet. After talking to a relative about the book, I found out that he was a tanner and taught in a cheder on the side.

I also learned more about the antisemitic environment my grandparents grew up in. There was petty antisemitism that went unchecked for decades, if not centuries. Ukrainians in my grandfather’s Shtetl called him names. My grandmother recalls poles in the streets telling her to go back to Palestine. Hate and intolerance were rampant before WWII, and they helped sow the seeds for unimaginable atrocities. My grandparents’ stories are a reminder of the need to fight hatred in all its forms.

Bringing New Family Stories to Light

Since publishing the book, I learned more about a trip to Eastern Europe that my grandfather took with my two uncles. They visited the camps and the town where he grew up. The tour guide in Auschwitz never met a former inmate in the six years he guided tours. When they got to Birkenau, it was 100 degrees that day and the camp was unbelievably large. Due to his age, my grandfather couldn’t walk the camp in the heat. When the guide explained the situation to the authorities at the camp, they unlocked the gates just for my grandfather and let him drive around.

Two days after visiting the camps, they visited my grandfather’s hometown, Hukliva, in the Carpathian Mountains. They drove the only car in town. While they were walking around, they ran into three women with pitchforks going to work the fields. One of them directed them to a house of a friend of my grandfather’s older brother. They recognized each other, but the guy looked at least 20 years older than my grandfather. He told my grandfather that he was the first Jew to ever come back. Everyone assumed all the Jews were dead. Then he looked at their car and asked if they drove here from America. He also asked my grandfather how life was in America. My grandfather, who worked non-stop six to seven days a week for decades, said “easy.”

The Extended Newman Family Today

Before the war, my grandfather had seven siblings. Five survived. Three went to America and two to Israel. Today, there are hundreds of descendants. After everything we lost during the war, each life is so precious.

We often get together for family simchas. In fact, one of my brothers recently flew to Israel to attend a family wedding (for my grandfather’s great nephew).

We have an email list for the extended family where people share family updates, Yahrzeits, and words of Torah. We also say Tehillim as a family every month.

My Advice for Creating a Similar Book

First, talk to someone who’s done this before and get their input. You’ll save a lot of time and energy. Second, include family pictures and a genealogy section; this will help your extended family feel connected to the book.

Third, I recommend publishing the book using Amazon; it’s convenient and anyone can buy the book for a low cost. Lastly, know that creating a book like this is a lot of work; there may be moments where you want to give up or push the project off. Keep at it! The hard work really pays off.

Future Projects

In the future, I’d like to write something about my maternal grandparents, Henry and Adele Goldblum, Z”L – both about their survival stories and how they managed to immigrate to America and build a successful shoe business.

Words of Gratitude

Some words of gratitude. Thank you to Lillian Kaplan, who interviewed my grandmother, Rita Newman, Z”L, in 1986, and Brad Zarlin, who interviewed my grandfather, Sam Newman, in 2014. Brad has done over 2,000 interviews with Holocaust survivors – the most by any one person – some lasting over 16 hours. Without Brad and Lillian, there’s so much my family would never know about my grandparents.

Steps for Creating “Sam & Rita Newman: Survivor Stories

Step 1 – Find your motivation. We had an eight-hour interview from my grandfather and a 45-minute interview from my grandmother. We started the process toward the beginning of the pandemic when we had plenty of time at home. Our goals were to preserve the history, bring our extended family together, and create a book we can pass on from generation to generation.

Step 2 – Get the book transcribed. We used a transcription company in Israel, both because of the price and their ability to understand basic Yiddish and Hebrew. The one we used is called “Transcription For Everyone.”

Step 3 – Do a basic edit of the transcription, mainly looking for errors.

Step 4 – Add transcription text to “Overleaf” (a collaborative cloud-based LaTeX editor) and format/edit the text using LaTeX (a coding language).

Step 5 – Edit more extensively and add footnotes (to explain terms and add other relevant notes).

Step 6 – Write intro and epilogue (which required reading the entire interviews) and add to the manuscript on “Overleaf.”

Step 7 – Add genealogy (our goal here was to help each extended family member feel connected to the book):

  • Collect names on a shared google spreadsheet by reaching out to extended family (100s of names to include).
  • Format the family tree using “Family Tree Maker.”
  • Review and fix errors.

Step 8 – Add images:

  • Collect images from the extended family (again, our goal here was to help each extended family member feel connected to the book).
  • Create captions below the images.
  • Add to “Overleaf” and format.

Step 9 – Create a table of contents, credits page, and dedication page.

Step 10 – Create the book cover:

  • Choose a title.
  • Download a template for the book cover from Amazon KDP. It shows the three parts of your cover (front, back, and spine) and what size they need to be. The reason you need a template is because the spine size will vary depending on the number of pages in the book and the thickness of the paper.
  • Design the cover. There are two ways to do this: 1) Hire someone to do it for you. 2) Design the cover and back cover yourself and then hire a freelancer to place your images into a PDF that matches the template provided by Amazon KDP. We hired someone on Fiverr. It took ~24 hours and cost $12.

Step 11 – Publish the book on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing):

  • Upload a PDF of the inside pages of the book.
  • Upload a PDF of the book cover.
  • Choose thickness, page color, black & white vs. color, size, category, book description, title, price & royalties, etc.
  • Note on pricing: we charged $8.04, which is the minimum price, and therefore we received no royalties. For anything above the minimum, Amazon takes 40% of the profits and the author will receive the other 60% as royalties. As an author, you can also purchase author copies for $3.60 per copy + shipping fees.
  • Submit your book and wait for it to be reviewed/approved by Amazon.
  • Readers can then buy the book on Amazon. It will ship with Prime (typically it will arrive within two days). It’s printed on-demand in a location near you. For example: My brother in Chicago had his printed in Illinois. Each copy of the book shows the date and location of printing on the back page.

Step 12 – Create a digital archive where we store the book PDF, the original interviews, images, the family tree (this gives readers access to these resources if they’re interested and we can update the family tree regularly).

About the Author
Zev Newman is a Freelance Content Writer and Marketing Consultant that serves B2B and B2C companies around the world. His specialties include SEO, Content Writing, Social Media Management, and Digital Marketing Strategy.
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