Several years ago Martin Small, in his late 80s, approached Vic Shayne about writing his memoirs. Following a couple of initial meetings, Shayne decided that this project was well worth delving into for two main reasons. First, Martin Small was an outspoken and fascinating subject. Second, his story was literally a hero’s journey.
(Martin Small is pictured to the right at a recent book signing for Remember Us, his life’s story)
Shayne says of the book’s subject, “Martin Small is the rare and wonderful type of person who makes friends wherever he goes. His entire life, by virtue of his extroverted personality and natural curiosity, is marked by the relationships he forges. And he forges them quickly because he’s interested in people, who they are, where they come from, their families, their languages and their customs. It is no wonder that he has mastered more than 10 languages. His inquisitive nature dictates that he jumps head-first into every culture he comes into contact with. Within ten minutes of speaking with Martin Small, he knows all about you. And the reason is that he really cares.”
When you read Remember Us, Martin Small’s story, you’ll see that he started out in life speaking three main languages: Yiddish, Russian and Polish. By the time he was five he was speaking and reading Hebrew as well. After the war, which is a period of great wonder, as covered in the book, Martin Small took a train to Italy from Salzburg, Austria, as thousands of Italian POWs were returning home from Russia. Instantly making friends with an Italian officer, Martin at last made it to Rome and in no time was speaking like a native. He made plenty of friends from Anzio to Ostia to Turin and back.
The second reason Vic Shayne took on this project, as stated, is that Martin Small’s life follows the format of a hero’s journey. An avid reader of Joseph Campbell, Shayne recognized this aspect of Martin’s story right away. He says, “The hero’s journey is a mythical format that offers readers not just an interesting story, but the kind of story that touches you to the core; it is felt in the heart and finds its way to the depths of the mind. The hero’s journey takes the protagonist from his home, away from those he loves and all that is familiar to him and brings him into the world on an adventure filled with obstacles, dangers and even rewards. Martin Small’s book, therefore, reads like a novel, yet knowing that it is true puts you on the edge of your seat. It’s a fascinating adventure, but you would never want to go through it yourself. I am still in awe of Martin Small and all that he has witnessed, lost, accomplished and learned. To me he will always be a hero. Certainly, he has been victimized, but Martin Small is not a victim. He is, in his own words, a survivor. There’s a tremendous difference.”
The hero’s journey finds the hero, by the end of the journey, a changed and wiser individual who sees the world in a new light. Nothing could be more true of Martin Small’s journey from his shtetl in Poland to the concentration camps of the Nazis, wandering as a displaced person after the war, into Italy, and beyond.
Remember Us: From my shtetl through the Holocaust is available for purchase through amazon.com online by clicking here.