The following is an excerpt from my journal. This is just a piece of a much larger personal journey for myself which had once lead me on the path to the possible development of a feature length film. Unfortunately, the stars did not align perfectly and so the project never was never able to obtain funding to be completed, but it was quite a learning experience none-the-less. The photo above is from my May 2008 trip to Vermont to interview Holocaust survivor Betty Lauer. The journal entry was written the day I unexpectedly found myself invited to a private lunch with the author of a book that had inspired me way beyond my wildest imagination.
MONDAY APRIL 24, 2006 3:58AM WHITE PLAINS, NY
It has been a wonderfully enlightening experience to come here this weekend. I have accomplished coming here to meet Betty Lauer. What an amazing light! I arrived at Temple Sinai in Stamford, CT at about 9:30am as I had planned. Of course I was afraid to go in right away because I had the feeling I would be noticed right away. So I waited until about 9:40am before I decided to venture into the temple. When I walked in it was raining hard. There were two doors and the main door which was open inviting people to come in. Once I entered into the foyer and went through the center door not the one on the right, but straight ahead I saw a large room. There were four large round party of 8-12 seat tables. There were maybe about 12 to 15 people already there getting coffee, and bagels and hot tea at a long table to the left as one walked in. There was a podium set up to the center right on the wall by the door. People looked up for a moment, took notice of me, but then went back to their business. There was another table set up to the far right adjacent to the round tables. There was a woman there seated. I noticed everyone was at least 50 or so in age. The woman noticed me as I approached her table. There were name tags there and a guest sign in sheet. I walked up and she asked if she would help me. I asked if this was the place that the speaker Betty Lauer was speaking. She said it was and asked me to sign in. As I signed in she asked me if I was from the local community. I said “no” that I had come from Ohio. She was intrigued and warm. She offered me the bagels and the coffee. I was gracious and went over to the bagel table. I was not really hungry because I had just eaten a large hotel breakfast omelette and fruit. I decided to get a hot tea with sweet and low of course. Then I chose an empty table and sat down to observe the room. I realized quickly that I would not just easily blend in. I was too youthful not to be approached by someone so I waited quietly. I watched and in a few minutes a woman with white hair and brown eyes approached me. She said she noticed that I was alone and decided to sit down to talk to me. Then she asked me where I came from. I told her Ohio. She got excited and asked me if I was related to Betty. I said “no” that I had just come to meet her in person after having been inspired by reading her story. She was a lovely lady. We talked a few minutes. I forgot to mention that the lady at the desk asked me similar questions and told me that if Betty was not already there she would be arriving soon. Of course Betty was there and I saw her, but I did not feel I should just approach and overwhelm her. Evelyn’s friend came over to the table. Evelyn introduced her to me with my story of course. By this time my story was getting to my ordeal of Saturday’s flight cancellation in Philadelphia. I had told of my rental car adventure to drive the rest of the journey. Paula, Evelyn’s friend, was super excited. She was full of energy. Of course she asked similar questions. Then she said that I should be introduced to everyone. So she and Evelyn whisked me away and started introducing me to everyone. Everyone had pretty much the same astonished reaction I was beginning to feel like I was getting too much focus and attention. Then the president of the Jewish Society was introduced to me and she made it a point to introduce me to Betty herself. I was excited. As people were going into the small sanctuary I was taken to Betty and introduced. Of course her immediate reaction was overwhelmed, maybe even embarressed and definitely surprisingly shocked. She said that she did not know what to say and I said that her emotional reaction to my presence was how I felt. Then I smiled and she looked to her own familiar friend and leaned into her to hide her face. She then said that she did not want to be that emotional before having to speak. Of course then I was embarressed and apologized for my act of boldness. Then the president said that we should all go in to sit down. I agreed and went in with everyone and sat in the back next to the wonderfuly hospitable Evelyn and Paula. I was very happy although I had wanted to embrace Betty I had felt in that moment of certain emotionally shocked surprise that it was inappropriate. In about five minutes the president came to the podium and spoke a bit of an introduction She of course had to mention my presence and I was embarressed because I had not come to steal Betty’s thunder. I turned to sink down into my pew to signal not to get too wild. Of course all the heads turned to see who I was. Then the president went on. Finally she introduced Betty. Betty came out smiling brightly just like in her photos from the book. She did not want to use the microphone at first. She said that it made her feel separated and distant from her audience which she did not like. But the audience was full of older people whose hearing is not so great anymore so she was forced to use the microphone. As she began to talk the microphone did not want to cooperate. It kept sliding down and the sound tech kept having to come up and adjust it. Finally it stayed and Betty continued. She read a passage from her book. It was the part about her experience in Krakaw alone without her mother. It was the moment before her one and only unsuccessful suicide attempt on the train tracks. Then she opened up for questions, thoughts, and opinions. I was too excited to think of any important questions. Finally after several questions Betty looked at me directly and asked me by name if I had any questions. I said “no” that I did not at the moment. I fumbled to speak and said I would think of one eventually. At one point someone asked if she’d want to ever have her story made into a movie. My filmmaking had also come up in conversation prior to the discussion and Betty speaking. Betty said of course. Something told me that I should stand up and pose the question since I had already been working on a script. That was when Betty asked for my contact information. The session went on as I sat back down. Some guy shared his own suffering child abuse and said something about the American Symbol for purity and Evelyn made a joke. She said that the elusive answer was “Ivory Soap.” I thought that was really funny. A bit later I asked if her mother had ever been able to come to terms with what happened in Krosno. With sadness and maybe even regret she said “no.” Then someone mentioned that she had a sister and wondered why she had not mentioned it. I know the answer, but to me the most touching statement is that Betty said that Eva was a part of her and that she lived her life for both of them. The meeting wrapped up about 12. Then people mingled and I had several people come up to me with amazement. They wanted to meet me, but I was embarressed because this was not about me. Politely I answered their questions. This woman abut my parents’ age named Eva talked to me for a long time She told me about her father’s story and a bunch of other resourceful research materials. Then the president came up to me and invited me to lunch with Betty and a few others. I was delighted. Eva rode with me in my car. It was still raining of course. She told me a bit of history on Stamford. When we arrived at the place it was a sandwich deli shop. A table of 8 was waiting with a chair reserved for me next to Betty. This was an honor for me and I was gracious that they gave me that. I still did not know what else to say. I just wanted to listen. I barely ate anything because too many questions came my way. Betty asked me who funded my trip. I said myself. She could not believe it. She could not believe my entire story of the cancelled flight and driving. She asked me if I was alone. I said that “no” I was in a relationship. She seemed comforted by this. Then I told her that I certainly did not feel alone. She told me that I had a beautiful smile and asked me where it came from. I told her my mother’s side of the family. Then I told her the story of how I had ruined my perfect teeth swimming in Niagra Falls. At one point she said to me that she could see that no matter what it was I was doing in life that I would eventually get there. She could see that when I decided I wanted something I would get it.
She wanted to know who funded the trip. I told her “me.” She kept asking me if I was glad that I had come and I said “yes of course.” I did not regret it at all.
If you would like to know more about Betty’s story I highly recommend the book “Hiding in Plain Sight” by Betty J. Lauer published by Smith and Kraus Global.