Counting on America: Book Review and Blog by Gary Reiner
Counting on America: A Holocaust Memoir of Terror, Chutzpah, Romance, and Escape
Counting on America, illustrates the escalation of anti-Semitism following Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938 (the Anschluss); and the obstacles Jewish refugees faced trying to reach the shores of America. Kurt and Hennie Reiner, newlyweds from Vienna, recognize that they must run for their lives. Their flight is stalled when Kurt is imprisoned in Dachau. He is released but threatened with certain arrest unless he can find a legal way out of Germany. As the newlyweds scramble to obtain visas, they are conscripted for work at an SS monitored farm labor camp. Next, their precarious escape path leads them to Marseille. After France declares war on Germany, Kurt is arrested as a “foreign enemy” and interned in a French prison. Their plan to emigrate to the United States again thwarted, they rely on chutzpah, divine intervention, and their romantic commitment to defy defeat. A non-fiction historical thriller told in first-person narrative interspersed with historical context. Ideal for leisurely reading and/or use in classrooms and other academic settings.
A Blog Interview with Gary Reiner, co-author, Counting on America. The following are excerpt(s) of the interview conducted by blogger Paul Kalb of Opinoin8ted. They are reprinted and edited with permission. For a full transcript of the original interview, go to https://opinion8ed2.wordpress.com/2018/08/25/interview-with-gary-reiner/
Paul: Thanks Gary for agreeing to talk about your book. Your parents' personal story is so moving I imagine it might have been difficult for you to take it all in…Can you talk a little about how aware you were of your parents’ story while growing up?
Gary: It wasn’t discussed at my house during my teen years. It wasn’t until my forties that my father asked me to help him with his memoir. He did ask me at 16 to mail a letter to Austria that had swastikas drawn on the envelope flap. My curiosity got the best of me and I opened it. I was appalled to read “Nazi bastards, die, go to Hell” or words to that effect. He told me that it was addressed to persons that he knew had thrown my grandfather down a flight of stairs and turned him into the Gestapo.
Paul: Do you recall a particular time that they disclosed their story to you? I imagine it would have been difficult to avoid some reference to the Holocaust when the subject of your grandparents, aunts, and uncles, all of whom were killed came up.
Gary: Discussion of my relatives did not come up. When you grow up without them, you do not have any idea of what you are missing. I remember that I once went to my best friend’s house, when I was around 12, and was introduced to his grandfather. “Gary,” he said, “this is my grandfather, Isaac.” I had to ask, “what is a grandfather.” I know that sounds naïve but I have heard other holocaust survivors’ children tell a similar story.
Paul: After learning of their experience, was it talked about openly or was it too painful to discuss until much later in their lives?
Gary: My mother was unable to talk about it. When asked a question about her parents, she could not utter a complete sentence before starting to cry.
Paul: Can you tell us a little more about the process of preparing the book. I know it was based on your Dad’s own writing and dozens of original documents that your parents preserved. How did you go about organizing it?
Gary: My father had extensive documentation of what he had gone through so there was a trail to follow. Also, his recall was triggered by the documentation. The problem I had was piecing together each event within a time line that created flow and comprehension. A related task was putting the story together in context with the political circumstances. My parents’ flight path can be viewed as a series of spontaneous defensive moves in response to a series of hostile government or military actions.
Paul: Do you recall your feelings when the Holocaust was studied in school? Did it make you uncomfortable? Did you ever share your parents story at these times?
Gary: The Holocaust was not discussed in school when I was growing up. Those were the days of the “dark secret.” None of my friends knew about my parents’ background except that they came from Austria. I knew of no other children of Holocaust survivors.
Paul: I think Counting on America is not only a fascinating and important read but a significant piece of history that must be preserved. Have you approached any Jewish organizations or Holocaust museums about the book?
Gary: I have donated about five dozen documents to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. They are digitizing the information and making a visual on-line record. The memoir will also be linked to the digital record. I am currently reaching out to different Jewish organizations and arranging speaking and book signing engagements.
Paul: Thanks so much for taking the time with us…but more importantly for getting Counting on America published.
Gary: Thanks for the interview. It was a pleasure to share my experience with you.