Introduction By Bettina Schaefer What a life! Noah Flug looked back on an epoch of war, death and murder when I first met him and his wife Dorota in Berlin in December of 2006. I interviewed him (see p. 40) for the book Let’s Talk about Au-schwitz, the first book which deals with the present existence of the memorial site, how it is perceived and how it approaches remembrance. In the book, 28 people between 16 and 84 years of age, from Israel, Poland, Germany, France and Austria talk about their experiences with the public museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
He opened up to me right away. As if we had known each other forever, he immersed himself in painful memories of the Holocaust, with all of the humiliations and great losses—his family members were killed, the family’s possessions were lost. He spoke of happiness, of survival and his life after surviving. He also spoke about what the Auschwitz memorial site means today, with 1.3 million people visiting annually from all around the world, and how it brings together memories, hopeful remembrance, wishes and visions. And then there is another aspect; about ten minutes into our interview, I have the impression that I’m sitting across from an extraordinary person. It isn’t necessarily clear why at first sight. Flug is friendly, modest, of sound mind, and yet I ask myself deep down: who is this?
Three years later I visit Noah Flug in Jerusalem. He and Dorota invite me to their house and I give him his “specimen copy” of the book. Yes, I succeeded in publishing the book after all, and both of us are relieved. For him it is another step towards making these memories contemporary, relevant and lasting. But I didn’t know that at the time, and was surprised and speechless when Noah offered me, an unimportant journalist, his friendship, which I gladly accepted. (...)
This book of recollections from 25 contemporary witnesses from Israel, the USA, Poland and Germany begins in Poland in 1940. Noah is 15 years old and his home country is occupied by Nazi Germany. He is imprisoned in the Łódź Ghetto together with his parents, Regina and Itzhak, where he goes to a Gymnasium, a college preparatory high school for boys. At the same time, he actively participates in the youth resistance movement in the ghetto, which puts his life in constant danger. The recollections end with his death on August 11, 2011 in Jerusalem. Between these dates are 71 years of a life marked by civil disobedience and resistance; the life of a man who remained optimistic in spite of everything and who possessed an extraordinary social and political talent which earned him great and continued success.
My interview partners didn’t always answer each question in detail. There are some things which they kept to themselves, which is fine. I respect that, and it’s possible that some topics are missing, thus leaving gaps. And some people recalled Noah Flug in the present tense, as if he were still alive. In these moments it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if he had walked through the doorway, sat down, listened and uttered three or four sentences with his calm voice. (...)
The thread which runs through all of the memories is Flug’s likeable and modest, reserved character—keeping a certain distance from everyone and everything—which couldn’t quite be grasped. He took on responsibility for his own life and for things which he believed must be changed. He practiced resistance and remained independent and authentic in spirit, which inspired others. He fought by skillfully cooperating, undermining stagnant systems and calling for action—not only to his benefit, but also to the benefit of others. In fact, his greatest success was his strong involvement in securing around 12 billion Euros in additional personal compensation for Holocaust survivors and forced laborers. (...)
The book After the Holocaust: In Spite of Everything, I Remain an Optimist—Remembering Noah Flug does not attempt to be a biography or a historical, political analysis of his life and work in regard to Flug’s aim to extend the personal compensation for Holocaust survivors and forced laborers. Excellent books have already covered these topics, such as Raul Teitelbaum’s Die biologische Uhr (The biological clock) and Stuart Eizenstat’s Unvollkommene Gerechtigkeit (Imperfect Justice, Public Affairs, New York 2003). Instead, in this volume contemporary witnesses shed light on different parts of Flug’s multifaceted life and tireless work. These stories depict him as a teenager in the resistance, a classmate, husband, father, friend, helper, boss, delegation member, supporter, diplomat, socialist and democrat, and again and again as a defender of “his” Holocaust survivors—for Noah Flug was truly a Mentsh.