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:
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.”