Author Naomi Litvin grew up in Mount Clemens, Michigan. Litvin’s family's World War II memoir is told in five voices. Sir Martin Gilbert has written the foreword and contributed maps to We Never Lost Hope: A Holocaust Memoir and Love Story. The following interview for the Detroit Jewish News by Janice Schooler Litvin gives some of Naomi's personal reflections.
Janice: What prompted you to write this book? Where and when did you first get the idea to write it
Naomi: First I’d like to thank you, Janice, for taking the time to interview me for the Detroit Jewish News Online. What prompted me to write this book is sort of like asking me, 'How did you learn to walk?' I have had my family’s story inside of me, sort of implanted in me, for a very, very long time. I always felt an obligation to tell the world this story, both as a platform against hatred and also for the love story. My parents' love story was always bigger than life, and I thought it had educational and entertainment value. For a long, long time I was afraid of the process though, because I was terrified of revisiting the horrors and subjecting my Mom to reliving the memories. So, I wrote snippets of the story, here and there, like on bar napkins and in college papers, and carried all of it around with me for years.
Janice: How long did the process take, start to finish?
Naomi: When I finally got down to business, I’d say it has been almost four and a half years. I had lost my job due to an acquisition/merger, and the time was just right to sit down and do it.
Janice: What obstacles did you overcome along the way?
Naomi: There were some mysteries that I wanted to solve, and I opened up a lot of Pandora’s boxes. I took a lot of risks pursuing answers and I caused myself some emotional bubbamisa. But in the end, I hope that I used the information well in my book. The big obstacle of finding an agent and a publisher was insurmountable, and I feel like I wasted at least a year and a half submitting and waiting and being rejected. Trying to overcome that obstacle actually led me to a wonderful thing. I was so frustrated that I wrote an email to Sir Martin Gilbert, spilling my guts to him. I never thought he would answer, but he did, and offered to read my manuscript and give me his honest opinion. That was like a beam of light coming through the clouds, and from then on, the obstacles began to melt away.
Then there was the question of self-publishing, which is a huge challenge. I’m not saying that all the obstacles totally disappeared, but when you have a person like Sir Martin Gilbert telling you not to give up hope, well, you just don’t!
Janice: How did your mother feel about telling her story?
Naomi: Yes, my mother was always receptive and she was an amazing support throughout the entire process. She was always a good decision maker, and to this day, I consult her about anything that I can’t figure out regarding the book.
Janice: How did she overcome the painful memories or was it easier than you expected?
Naomi: She never really overcame the painful memories. But in some ways, I think it was harder on me. During the interview process, she felt a catharsis, but then later on, she started having nightmares again. We both did. And we did make a lot of fun with it, also. I know that sounds bizarre, but laughter is sometimes the best medicine.
Janice: How did you make yourself persist when you got frustrated?
Naomi: I had to keep going. That is what she always said she had to do, so how could I not?
Janice: What did you learn from the process?
Naomi: I learned that in order for us to have hope for the future, we have to look back into the past, and ask our parents and the rest of the relatives, how did they keep going? How did they not lose hope? But what I hope others can learn from We Never Lost Hope is that genocide can happen anywhere, and that we must turn our fear into education.
Janice: How have the reactions been by the other family members?
Naomi: One of the best outcomes, so far, is the tremendous support and enthusiasm I have gotten from my family! I think that I was so closely enmeshed with the book, that I wasn’t sure how the family would react. The outpouring of love from them has been fabulous and empowering.
Janice: How do you plan to get the word out now that the book is published?
Naomi: I have been accepted to the Jewish Book Council’s Meet the Author Program and I am going to New York City on June 1, 2009 to the Meet the Author Event, where I get to pitch the members. This is the central clearinghouse for the Jewish Book Fairs that take place all over the United States in November through December 2009.
I have realized that the appeal of my book crosses all ethnic lines, if you go to my website, you will see the Voices and reactions of people that have read my book.
Janice: What is next on the horizon for you? Do you plan to write again?
Naomi: I am not finished with this story: I have a treasure trove of archival images and film from my parents in Europe in 1946 and their wedding. I want to do a traveling exhibit of the images. My book talks will have a slide show with the film so I have to get going on organizing that. I am looking for someone to help me with a book trailer. Also, I have started working on the screenplay.
Janice: What advice would you have for other writers creating a family story?
Naomi: Get all the stories from your family members down on tape, or anyway that you can. Email and letters work, too. Try to get the message to them how important their participation is.
Janice: Where can people find out more information about the book?
Naomi: My website has the link to Amazon to buy my book plus information, images, and comments and reviews from people that have read the book.You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org