An honor, and a precious moment in time: My book signing in Boston with Dr. Anna Ornstein

Boston is a wonderful city. Everything is close at hand, and one can walk almost everywhere. The museums are fabulous, as is the food, and the people are friendly and helpful.

How exciting it was for me to be back there after so many years for a book signing. Earlier this month, I came to Boston to speak about my book Myopia, a memoir (IP Books) at Brookline Booksmith with Dr. Anna Ornstein, author of My Mother’s Eyes: Holocaust Memoires of a Young Girl (Published by Emmis Books, sold by IP Books).

I wish I had taken more advantage of Boston while I was living in New York. Unfortunately, when we went to Back Bay to see the brownstone in which I had lived many years ago, it was the only building on the block that had been gutted.

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Dr. Anna Ornstein, author of My Mother’s Eyes, left, with Phyllis M Skoy, author of Myopia a memoir at Brookline Booksmith on April 10.

An extraordinary pairing

It is true that when opportunity knocks, we are not always ready to answer the door. This experience was one for which I will always be grateful. When IP Books (my publisher) and Carolyn Flynn (my publicist) put their heads together to find someone with whom I might do a reading, they came up with Ornstein, one of the most delightful women I have ever met!

I knew of Anna through the psychoanalytic community. I had heard that she and her late husband, Paul Ornstein, had written a great deal of papers in that field. I did not know that they were Holocaust survivors, or that Anna had written on the Holocaust, artistic creativity and trauma.

I did not expect Anna to agree to do a reading with me, as she is famous, and I am not, and I did not know her. But when, to my amazement she readily agreed, I quickly brushed up on the Ornsteins and read as much of her work as I could before meeting her.

Very ‘impressive’

The author with her husband, Arthur, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, while on a book tour

The author with her husband, Arthur, at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, while on a book tour

It is virtually impossible to do anything but like Anna. When my husband, Arthur, and I had tea at her beautiful apartment in Brookline, as we left I turned to him and said, “I think I’m in love.” He laughed and agreed, “She really is impressive.”

Confident in who she is and without a single hint of snobbery, her intelligence, warmth, wit and candid character put us immediately at ease. At 91 years of age, she is a glowing example to all of us. Nothing is too much or too difficult. After all, what would you expect from one who survived Auschwitz on two separate occasions?

Earlier this spring, we had started conversations by phone about how to approach our joint event. I was pleased when Anna immediately shot down trauma as our theme. “Too large a topic,” she said.

Ah, I thought, someone with strong opinions and convictions. I will like her.

A spellbinder

Until the event at Brookline Booksmith, Anna had never read from her book. Yet she read as if it had all just happened yesterday.

The audience was mesmerized. And though I had read her chapter, “The Backpack,” several times, I was moved as well.

The next day Anna was giving a lecture at Northeastern University for Remembrance Day. I was curious about this, and so we were quite pleased when she invited us to join her. The room was filled with faculty, staff and students. A lovely lunch was served.

Anna’s topic was: Can it happen here? She had us spellbound, this tiny woman, an unforgettable force of nature. I caught up with her afterward, surrounded by young and old, watching them insert her phone number into their phones. I turned to someone who knew her personally and asked, “Does she ever say no?” He laughed. “I don’t think so.”

The Holocaust survivors are slowly leaving us. The Holocaust is history. One of these days, we will read that the last Holocaust survivor has passed away. Looking at the chaos around the world today, the orphaned children, the families barely surviving in refugee camps around the world, we had best remember them and continue to tell their stories long after they are no longer here to do so themselves. The human race does not seem to learn from history. Perhaps there is hope we might learn something from one another.

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