Remember Us: The Idea Behind the Book

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.

Martin Small’s Passing Marks End of an Era

Martin Small, the subject of Remember Us: From my shtetl through the Holocaust, passed away late November, 2008, nearly making it to his 92nd birthday.

Pictured here with his wife Doris (circa 1950), Martin Small led a life that was the kind of adventure few can appreciate. And yet when we read about his exploits in Remember Us, we are reminded of the tremendous luck, perseverance, imagination and strength that it took for those few survivors to live to tell about the Holocaust years.

So traumatic were the years between 1940 and 1945 that Martin Small, for the rest of his life, introduced himself to everyone he met as a Holocaust survivor. He yearned to tell his story after six decades following the events that took place. Before this period, Martin kept it all to himself, save for family members and a few close friends. Trauma does unimaginable things to the mind. Until his dying day, he was tormented by dreams of a murdered family, a shattered culture, loss of a beloved little village and the grip of death in the concentration camp.

Now Martin is gone from our lives. It was difficult to watch him suffer from pancreatic cancer at the end of his life, considering all of the suffering he had already known, both physically and emotionally. His last words to me over the telephone less than a day before he died, were, “Why aren’t they coming for me? They need to come for me.” He longed to be taken to the world of his lost relatives and his beloved shtetl.

As a result of writing and publishing Martin Small’s life story, overwhelmingly, I have received comments about Remember Us that pertain less to the Holocaust than to Martin’s recollections of his shtetl. This is a point of connection for countless people. Actor Jerry Stiller told me, “This is a wonderful book. I can now look into the past and see what shtetl life was like. I can get a good picture of Frampol where my family came from.”

Certainly, Martin Small’s remembrances in Remember Us are mixed with tears and laughter. Martin’s story, especially by his own admission, is unimaginable.

Actor Jerry Stiller Speaks Fondly of ‘Remember Us’

Jerry Stiller, well known for his role on the Seinfeld TV show, among others, recently wrote to Vic Shayne in praise of Remember Us, the story of Holocaust survivor Martin Small.

Stiller’s family is from Frampol, a Polish shtetl, and he said that the account of Martin’s life in his own shtetl gave him pause to think about his roots.

Jerry Stiller wrote:

“Dear Vic,

Your writing was storytelling at its finest. I could hear Martin Small speaking. The Holocaust has never penetrated my senses in such a meaningful way. Who would believe human beings could turn upon fellow human beings with such mindless savagery…

As an eighteen-year-old G.I. stationed in Italy in 1946, part of the Army of Occupation, I was invited to attend Rosh Hashanah services in a Naples Synagogue by Jews who were awaiting resettlement by the Joint Distribution Committee. When the service ended a family invited me to their flat for dinner. I remember them to this day. The father, mother and their little daughter. I bought her a doll. We finished supper and talked. They didn’t say much about how they managed to survive. As a young Jewish kid from New York I was aware of how lucky I was to have experienced that moment. When dinner was over I left them some lire and said goodbye thinking I’d never see them again.

Two years later I was a civilian riding a bus in N.Y.C. looking for a job. A man got on the bus and in Yiddish asked the driver for directions. The driver didn’t understand Yiddish. I took it upon myself to translate. Suddenly the man’s face seemed vaguely familiar. In a few seconds I realized he was the man who invited me to dinner in Naples. My mind was blown. We talked and he told me he and the family were relocated to America and were living at 61 Columbia Street on the Lower East Side, the same tenement my mother lived in when she arrived in the United States. “We still have the doll”, the man said. I could not believe this was happening.

These are the stories your writing ignited in me. Of course it parallels the story about Mr. Curry, the policeman Martin Small met in New York who he had first met as a G.I. at that horrible camp.

Early in our marriage Anne and I lived in Washington Heights. Most of the tenants were survivors. Each night they would sit in beach chairs on Upper Riverside Drive conversing. Being inquisitive I would sit close enough to hear them tell stories about their lives. At the time they called Washington Heights the “Ferte Reich”.

“Remember Us from my Shtetl” also put me in touch with Frampol, a town in Poland my mother came from probably not unlike Maitchet. Your description of the town opened my mind to what my mother’s life was probably like as a young girl in the town of Frampol, which she never spoke much of.

Vic, your writing is so moving. Thanks for asking me to read this wonderful story, which will stay with me forever. Your book matches in eloquence Tom Brokaw’s ‘The Greatest Generation.”

Holocaust Survivor Gives Home to Surviving Torah

Martin Small, Holocaust survivor and subject of the new book about his life, Remember Us: from my shtetl through the Holocaust, in a miraculous fundraising effort, has given an old Torah a new home. Martin is donating the proceeds from his book sales to the Martin and Doris Small Torah Fund at his synagogue in Boulder, Bonai Shalom. Within just a few weeks of starting the fundraiser, the synagogue was able to purchase a Torah that, like Martin himself, survived the Holocaust.

Martin, pictured to the left of Rabbi Marc Soloway (photo credit Ken Miller Photography), gazes at the decades-old Torah as it is presented to his synagogue in early August. Martin said, “This Torah, like me, has traveled around the world, lost and displaced. Now it has a home. Now it can finally rest.”

The synagogue was packed to standing room only to witness Martin and his wife Doris as they placed the Torah into the ark during the ceremony. Upon closing the ark, Doris gazed at the new Torah and said, “Welcome home.”

It is believed that before the war the Torah was hidden from its original site in Poland or Germany and smuggled into Israel before eventually coming to the United States.

Bonai Shalom’s Torah, since the inception of the synagogue, has been on loan from another synagogue. Torahs are very expensive because they are handwritten by dedicated scribes who are trained in Hebrew calligraphy. They can range in price in the tens of thousands of dollars. “But,” said Martin Small, “the greatest thing about this Torah is not only that it is the law of the people, but more importantly, that it is a survivor. This is a most symbolic truth. Like the Jewish people, like myself, survival is a miracle, yet it is also a reality that we treasure. The value of our new Torah is in its character, not in its price tag.”

Martin Small read from the Torah while his grandson stood next to him holding a pole from the chupah. Martin said later, “My grandfather taught me the ways of our people. His presence is always with me, guiding me through my life. He was murdered along with my entire family in our shtetl in Maitchet, yet my grandfather remained with me through my darkest hours, through torture and starvation, through Mauthausen concentration camp and while I fought for the last vestiges of my people where we made our stand on the soil of Israel in 1948. Now it shall be to my grandfather that I shall return. I wait for him and he waits for me.”

Remember Us, the story of Martin Small, can be found and ordered at your local bookstore or by clicking here.

Surviving Mauthausen: Martin Small Manages Nearly Impossible Feat

Martin Small, 91, remembers all too well the terrible hell of Mauthausen concentration camp. When the camp was liberated in the spring of 1945 by American forces, Martin had been left for dead in the barracks of the subcamp of Gusen. He was still in his twenties, barely 75 pounds and unconscious when an American GI picked him up and carried him to an Army ambulance headed for a hospital in Linz.

Before liberation, he worked in the crematoria, burying inmates who had lost their lives due to hunger, disease, murder, torture, the cold and death in the gas chambers, as pictured in this historical photograph to the right.

“I still don’t know how I survived,” says Martin Small, who currently lives with his wife, Doris, in Colorado.

Martin’s life story is in a new book called Remember Us: From my shtetl through the Holocaust, sparing the reader with the most gruesome details of Mauthausen, is a work of history and personal struggle for survival. Remember Us focuses mostly on Martin’s shtetl life in pre-war Poland and his plight as a refugee. Yet, if the reader cares to investigate on his own, there are many sources on Mauthausen concentration camp on the internet.

In this photo, above, a guard with a machine gun watches over prisoners in the main courtyard.

For more information on Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria, including photographs, click here and here.

Read what people are saying about ‘Remember Us’

Remember Us, the book about Holocaust survivor Martin Small, has only been on the market for a couple of weeks, yet copies are being sold out faster than distributors can keep up with demand. We are thrilled that this book is so well received, and here are a couple of the first impressions by readers

In his poignant memoir, Remember Us, Martin Small relives his warm family life in the shtetl and the horrors that followed with the German occupation. Survival, however, is the inspiring message of this brave, spirited man. His story is action-packed (to say the least) and I read it in 2 sittings. It is deeply moving and, yes, I will “remember.” It would make a great TV film!!
— Doris Wechter, Santa Barbara, Calif.

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This is the only survivor book I ever read that has avoided the gruesome realities of concentration camps and focuses on other aspects of the Holocaust that I was completely unaware of. After reading about Martin Small’s grandfather, I was truly impressed by the richness of his early life and the gravity of what happened in human terms. This book reads like a novel, but grips you even more because it’s true.

— Ed Jensen, Philadelphia

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One cannot read this story , come away untouched by Mr. Small’s detailed description of his home so many years ago. This book is a monument to all who lost their lives because they were Jews. I have long thought how hard it is to be Jewish and survive in a climate of hate and ignorance.

Martin, may God continue to bless you, have his light shine upon you and bring you peace.

— Ron Shayne, Miami, Florida

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This is a magnificent account of the horrors of the Holocaust as lived by Martin Small. Author Vic Shayne has been able to give the reader the feeling of presence during these horrific events. Mr. Small’s recollection is vivid and tragic at the same time. Having lost 86 members of his family to the murderous Nazi’s and their collaborators he has dedicated his life to memorialize these unspeakable events in his art and poetry. Now his book ‘Remember Us: From My Shtetl Through the Holocaust’ brings his message to new heights with the chant of ‘Never Again’ and ‘We Shall Never Forget’. This Herculean effort should be obligatory reading for everyone so that the horrors of the Holocaust as told by survivor Martin Small to Vic Shayne are understood and remembered forever.

— Pedro A. Rubio (The Woodlands, TX USA)

Holocaust Survivor Martin Small’s Story is Published

rememberusbookcover.jpg Remember Us: My Shtetl Through the Holocaust is available at long last, following more than three intensive years of writing and research.

If you’re unfamiliar with internet searches, simply go to amazon.com and type in the name “Martin Small,” in quotation marks when searching under “books,” then this book will appear. Even easier, Martin’s name also appears on the iuniverse.com website page here.

In a week or so, as articles have been going out publicizing Mr Small’s story, google.com will have picked up his name in connection with the book, which will also add to the ease of locating it on amazon.com and through other sellers.

In the meantime, Remember Us is now available for ordering online or from your bookseller.

This book is widely heralded and is selling out at every book signing. Amazon.com cannot keep up with the demand, so it is easiest right now to order directly from iuniverse.com

First Book Signing is Sold-Out Event

Martin Small, the subject of the new book, Remember Us: From my shtetl through the Holocaust, appeared at his synagogue in Boulder Thursday night, June 19, 2008 for a book signing along with writer Vic Shayne. This event was scheduled to be a little gathering for a book signing, but with the great organization of Rabbi Marc Soloway and his staff at synagogue Bonai Shalom, there was not one book left unsold within a couple of hours.

Vic Shayne spoke about the process of writing this book as it was told to him by Holocaust survivor, 91-year-old Martin Small, resident of Broomfield, CO. Shayne said that although Martin Small’s life is filled with painful memories, it would be even more painful not to remember, and he referred to Mr. Small as a hero whose book is no less than the story of a hero’s journey.

Shayne also elaborated on Mr. Small’s unusual ability to remember details, names, places and events that live in his memory from more than seven decades in the past. Some of these memories, said the writer, came to Mr. Small in the middle of the night, embedded in dreams and nightmares, adding to the pain and tears that went into this book.

Speaking from the audience, Shael Siegel, who, with his wife Myrna, traveled twice to Mr. Small’s hometown of Maitchet, Poland, agreed with Vic Shayne’s assessment of Mr. Small’s uncanny memory. Mr. Siegel relayed how Mr. Small remembered every street and landmark in his hometown of Maitchet well enough to draw a detailed map for the Siegels that turned out to be not only accurate and useful, but also more detailed than the city officials were able to provide.

Myrna and Shael Siegel’s trip to Maitchet was a bittersweet journey. Mrs. Siegel was able to visit the site of her (Boretsky) family’s flour mills and neighborhood as well as the burial site of more than 3,600 Jews (including members of her and Martin Small’s family) who were murdered by their Polish neighbors in July 1942 when the Nazis invaded the Belarus shtetl. Pictured (right) is a photograph of a monument transcribed in Russian and Hebrew mourning the massacre. It remains at the edge of the forest in Maitchet, the site of the mass murder. This photograph, provided by Myrna Siegel, appears in Martin Small’s memoirs along with other depictions of Maitchet.

Martin Small has a remarkable story

Martin Small, almost 92 years old, is a survivor. He has survived the massacre of his hometown in Poland, a labor camp in Koldichevo, being shot by Ukranian guards in an epic escape into the forests, run-ins with opposing partisan units, the death camp of Mauthausen and the war for independence in Palestine in 1948.

In the photo depicted to the right, which accompanied an article from the Denver Post, Martin shows where he was shot in his right arm while fleeing into the woods after crawling through an escape tunnel away from Koldichevo forced labor camp in 1942.

The details of Martin Small’s life, in his words, “Unbelievable. They are real and they happened, but they remain unbelievable. Why? Because you just cannot imagine the things that I have seen and experienced. They are outside the realm of normal life or expectation. Who, for example, could expect that one’s entire family would be murdered by our neighbors? Or that there could be concentration camps that were set up to put to death little children, mothers, fathers and grandparents? This is beyond mere evil. It is unthinkable. And yet it happened. The human mind cannot grasp all of this.”

Martin’s life story is now available in the book Remember Us: from my shtetl through the Holocaust. CLICK HERE.