Press on Tutti’s Promise

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 11.24.06 AM

Holocaust stories told, plans for memorial discussed

by Joseph Gresser

HARDWICK — Three Vermont daughters of holocaust survivors explained their plans here last week for creating a permanent traveling memorial to the victims of Nazi atrocities.

They also shared family stories and discussed plans for the memorial with a small group that met at the Jeudevine Memorial Library Tuesday evening, November 14.

Miriam Rosenbloom, a Hyde Park resident, opened the meeting and shared the credo of the group she formed with Debora Steinerman and K. Heidi Fishman.

“We believe in humankind,” she said. “We are all the same.”

Ms. Rosenbloom provided a quick overview of the events that, from 1933 to 1945, resulted in the deliberate murder of 11 million civilians. She was careful to note that, in addition to the six million Jews killed by the Nazis, five million other people were caught up in the holocaust.

All, she said, were members of groups the Nazis, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, did not think deserving of life. They included people with both mental and physical disabilities, the Romani people, political opponents, gay and lesbian people, freemasons, Slavs, Poles, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Before World War II the Jewish population of Europe numbered around nine million. At its end only three million survived. Only one out of three survived, Ms. Rosenbloom noted.

She explained Hitler’s goal of totally exterminating Jews, and outlined the increasingly draconian laws that preceded the death camps.

Those included laws banning Jews from schools attended by non-Jews, prohibiting intermarriage between Jews and gentiles, and excluding Jews from a range of professions.

Rules for determining who was Jewish were based on race, not on religious belief. Like African Americans in the U.S. during the Jim Crow era, a person who had even a single Jewish grandparent was seen as Jewish by the Nazis.

To make sure everyone could tell who was Jewish, the government marked their identity cards with a large J and required Jews to wear a badge the shape of a yellow star of David.

On the night of November 8 to 9, 1938, the German members of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party and civilians attacked and burned Jewish places of worship throughout the country and smashed up Jewish-owned businesses. More than 91 people were killing in what came to be known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass.

Soon afterwards 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

“If life in Germany was so difficult, why didn’t they just get out?” Ms. Rosenbloom asked.

The answer to that question resonates today, she said. “No one wanted Jews. No one wanted refugees.”

Even the U.S. had laws that set quotas on what groups could be admitted, and few Jews were accepted.

Among those who were lucky enough to survive, and luck played an immense part for anyone who escaped the holocaust, were Ms. Steinerman’s mother, Ms. Rosenbloom’s father, and Ms. Fishman’s mother and her immediate family.

Ms. Fishman wrote Tutti’s Promise, a young adult novel, to tell how her Untitled 1grandfather kept his family together. She shared her tale with the Jeudevine audience.

The Tutti of the book’s title is Ruth Lichtenstern, who was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1936. Tutti was her family nickname.

Her father was an international commodities trader specializing in nonprecious metals.

As the situation in Germany worsened, his boss moved the commodities business to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where he thought things would be safe.

They were until 1940 when the German army occupied the Netherlands and initially imposed a milder version of the Nazi’s racial laws, Ms. Fishman said. Jews had to register their bicycles, cars, and radios, but they were allowed to continue living relatively normal lives.

That changed, though, and eventually Jews had to give up cars, radios, and bicycles. They also were forced to wear the yellow star.

Ms. Fishman’s family was forced to leave its comfortable home in an elegant part of the city and move to an area the Nazis had set up as the city’s Jewish quarter.

Her grandfather could see what was coming and prepared by giving all his extra cash to a friend, Egbert de Jong, who served as a minister in the Dutch government. Ms. Fishman said her grandfather told his friend he could use the money to help others, but he’d like whatever was left when conditions allowed.

By that time the Germans were taking 90 percent of a family’s possessions as payment to allow them to leave their territory, assuming they had someplace to go.

Ms. Fishman said her mother remembers seeing the Germans come into her neighborhood to round up Jews. As she stood by a window watching the hubbub and holding a pink doll, a woman snatched her away so the soldiers wouldn’t see her.

Tutti’s father decided the family should go into hiding so she, her mother, father, and little brother all crammed into an attic room. They thought they were safe, but conditions were so cramped and unpleasant Ms. Fishman’s grandfather thought it better to turn themselves in rather than live that way.

He heard it was possible to get a false passport from the Paraguayan counsel in Switzerland, and arranged for one.

The family left the attic and was immediately arrested. Ms. Fishman’s father produced the passport to show he was a Paraguayan citizen, but the document failed to impress the Germans.

They were sent to the Jewish theater in Amsterdam, which was a perfect holding place, as it had no outside windows. The family was then transferred to the Westerbork transit camp in the northeastern part of the Netherlands.

Ms. Fishman, who traveled extensively to do research for her book, showed a photograph of the camp, a bleak dirt street lined with tents. She pointed out a pile of scrap metal that turned out to be her family’s salvation.

As an expert in metals, Ms. Fishman’s grandfather was put in charge of sorting out the pile of scrap. He recruited camp residents to assist, and the number of people who worked recycling metal rose from five to 1,200 as he organized the work.

Ms. Fishman said Dutch resistance fighters got involved in the process. They stole the sorted metal, mixed it back up, and returned it to the camp to keep the Jews busy so the Nazis would find them too useful to kill, Ms. Fishman said.

She compared their work to that of Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey, who tore out her day’s weaving every night to avoid having to marry one of her many suitors.

UntitledMs. Fishman said her grandfather was given an office in Amsterdam so he could round up more metal for the camp, and he spent several days there and the rest of his time in the camp.

According to Ms. Fishman, an argument was going on between two high ranking Nazis. Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for moving Jews to death camps, wanted to ship the population of Westerbork east to Poland or Czechoslovakia.

Albert Speer, who had charge of the German armaments industries, wanted the Jews to stay and provide material for guns and bombs.

In the end, she said, Eichmann won the argument, and her grandparents, her mother, and her uncle were shipped to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Ms. Fishman said the Germans used Theresienstadt to fool organizations like the Red Cross into thinking their camps were not inhumane. Nevertheless, conditions were dreadful, and many people died of disease or starvation. The camp, though, was not one of those that had gas chambers.

Ms. Fishman said her family struggled to keep clean and avoid illness, and her grandfather was lucky enough to get a job sorting vegetables in a root cellar.

Ordinarily the work involved putting good vegetables into a pile for German consumption, while rotten vegetables were reserved for camp inmates.

One guard would occasionally say that he had to go for a break. Ms. Fishman’s grandfather knew that was a signal that he should fill his trousers with vegetables for himself.

According to a story Ms. Fishman heard, but could not confirm, the guard had once been a waiter at a restaurant her grandfather patronized. He had been a generous tipper, and the guard returned the favor.

Ms. Fishman said her grandfather always said he would have testified on that guard’s behalf if he had the chance.

Eventually the Germans announced that Jewish men would be shipped to Auschwitz aboard a train. Ms. Fishman’s grandfather bid his daughter a tearful farewell and walked to the train.

But someone reminded him that he still had the false passport.

“It didn’t work,” her grandfather said.

“Why not try it again, what do you have to lose?” his acquaintance said.

He showed it to a guard, and amazingly this time it produced the desired effect. Ms. Fishman’s grandfather was told he would not go to Auschwitz.

Not long after, the Russian army liberated the camp. Ms. Fishman’s family was sent west and eventually settled again in Amsterdam.

They struggled at first, but her grandfather got his job back. Although some people he had given money refused to return it, Mr. de Jong kept his word and returned most of what he’d been given.

The family prospered and eventually moved to Brazil and then the U.S.

Today Ms. Fishman’s mother lives in Connecticut and spends some of her time telling her story to students and citizens around the state.

Ms. Fishman and Ms. Rosenbloom said they hope their work will start conversations and get people thinking about what lessons the holocaust has to teach people, especially younger people, today.

Ms. Rosenbloom said, “The only reason my family survived is people helped them. The only reason we’re here is someone helped.”

She showed a slide. On it was a triangle. Its center was labeled “victims.” One angle was labeled “rescuers, upstanders.” One said “bystanders,” and the last read “perpetrators.”

Ms. Rosenbloom said it’s important for young people to learn the necessity of standing up for people who are being hurt. She gave the example of a child whom others bully.

If the memorial project is successful, she said, more students will realize the necessity of protecting those others attack only because they are somehow different.

She said the goal of the project is to institute a program of holocaust studies in middle schools around the state, to promote workshops for teachers, and to create a permanent traveling exhibit.

“We want to share stories with friends to keep them alive,” she said.

Wilcox Tech students hear from Holocaust survivor

October 31, 2017 07:38PM

MERIDEN — Students at Wilcox Technical High School learned about the Holocaust from survivor Ruth “Tutti” Lichtenstern Fishman on Monday.

Fishman recalled being held at the same concentration camp as Anne Frank, before Fishman was taken by cattle car to Theresienstadt concentration camp where she was eventually liberated by the Soviet Army.

“Fifteen thousand children passed through Theresienstadt of which 100 survived,” Fishman said. “I am one of the 100 that survived.”

Born in 1936 in Germany, Fishman’s family moved to Amsterdam when she was still a young child. When the German’s invaded Amsterdam, Fishman’s family was forced out of their home and into “Amsterdam East,” a ghetto for Jewish families.

“The round ups started without warning,” Fishman said. “Big trucks would stop in front of these apartment houses and would hurt the Jews outside.”

Soon after Fishman’s family went into hiding in the attic of a family friend. The small room had only one window, which Fishman and her brother were forbidden to go near for fear of being spotted. The family slept during the day to avoid making noise.

In 1943 her family was transported to Westerbork concentration camp, a transit camp where Jews were held before being taken to death camps in Poland.

“Anne Frank was at the camp at the same time I was,” Fishman said. “I didn’t know her. She was six years older.”

Fishman spent her days at the camp playing with other children in the yard. As time went on she noticed her friends would disappear without warning.

While at Westerbork, her father and other metal workers were able to start a scrap metal sorting operation. which allowed them to escape death. Members of the resistance would mix other metals into the sorted scrap metal in an attempt to weaken German airplanes and weapons being forged from the metal.

One day in 1944, Fishman’s father brought her a doll and placed money and other valuables inside the doll’s head, telling Fishman to keep the doll safe at all costs as the money could be used in an emergency. Fishman never let the doll out of her sight, carrying it with her into adulthood. The doll is now on display at the University of Hartford’s Holocaust exhibit.

After 9 months in Westerbork, Fishman’s family was crowded into cattle cars and taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic. During the trip, Fishman said she was in the same car as Cabaret actor Max Ehrlich, who told jokes to keep the passengers spirits up on the three day journey. Ehrlich would eventually be killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Conditions at Theresienstadt were significantly worse than Westerbork, Fishman said, with captives living on starvation rations of moldy bread and soup.

“The bugs, the illnesses were unbelievable,” Fishman said. “People died left and right.”

Fishman’s family was able to survive because her father smuggled food from the camp’s root cellar where he work, hiding vegetables in his pants.

”If he had been discovered, he would have been shot right then and there,” Fishman said.

Eventually orders were issued for all men ages 16 to 55 in the camp to be transported to Auschwitz, including her father. Fishman remembers her father leaning over and kissing her goodbye on her bunk bed. However, in a twist of fate Fishman’s father was able to avoid deportation and remain at the camp after showing guards his passport, which distinguished him as a skilled laborer. The Soviet Union liberated the camp in May 1945.

Fishman’s story is dramatized in the novel “Tutti’s Promise,” a fictional account by her daughter Heidi FIshman. Heidi Fishman told students that while the Holocaust may seem like a distant part of the history, the atrocities carried out are the consequences of discrimination.

“As soon as we look at someone else and see them as an other or less than ourselves, we have a problem,” Heidi Fishman told students. “That is why we study the Holocaust.”

Wilcox Senior Ashley Gudrian said hearing Fishman tell her story was eye-opening.

“It wasn’t just a story you hear in history,” said Gudrian. “That was real.”

“It was like, wow, she lived it,”  Senior Brook Agro said.

The program was organized by English teacher MIchelle Amann-Wojenski and library media specialist Santina Scalia , who attended the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Musuem’s 2017 Belfer National Conference for Educators in Washington D.C. this summert.

“I think it was a very important experience to hear the holocaust survivors story in her own words,” Amann-Wojenski said. “This will be an experience they will never forget.”

In a short question and answer period after Fishman’s story, one student asked Fishman how she was able to lead a normal life after the war.

”I believe your inner feelings, hate and not being able to forgive, can cause cancer and all all sorts of terrible things,” Fishman said. “You have to be able to move on. I have not forgotten, but I have forgiven.”

ltauss@record-journal.com
203-317-2231
Twitter: @LeighTaussRJ


Glastonbury Citizen


Tutti’ and Heidi Fishman ’80 Tell of Family’s Holocaust Survival September 28, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 10.49.36 AM

For a standing-room-only audience in the Hubbard Performance Hall on Tuesday, Holocaust survivor Ruth “Tutti” Lichtenstern Fishman recounted the harrowing story of her childhood escape with her family from Nazi extermination during World War II.

Ruth and her daughter, K. Heidi Fishman ’80, shared the account with the freshman class and other community members in a special session of the Freshman Seminar in the Common Good. Heidi accompanied her mother on stage to help explain images and statistics projected on the screen behind them and to give historical context to her mother’s personal narrative. Much of the projected information was from extensive research that Heidi conducted into her family’s past when she was writing Tutti’s Promise, a novel published early this year, based on her family’s story of endurance.

The Nazis killed six million Jewish people during the Holocaust, said Tutti. “To give you some perspective, six million people is roughly twice the population of the state of Connecticut,” she told the crowd gathered for her talk. “But my story has a happy ending,” Tutti added. She is one of only 100 child survivors among the 15,000 children sent through the Theresienstadt ghetto-camp located in what is now the Czech Republic.

Born in Germany in 1935, Tutti moved with her family to the Netherlands in 1936 before World War II broke out. Tutti recounted how life for herself, her family, and other Jewish people in Holland became severely restricted. She showed a photo of the identification card that Jews were forced to carry and a photo of herself and her classmates at a segregated Jewish-only school taken in 1942. Young Tutti could travel only on designated Jewish public transport, she explained, and she and her family, like all Jewish families, eventually were forced to leave their home and valuables and sent to live in a Jewish-only ghetto.

Tutti described how she and her brother, who both were children at the time, “did as we were told” in the interminable registration and transferring processes imposed upon them by the Nazi regime, enroute first to a transit camp in Westerbork and then to Theresienstadt.

“It was always, ‘Schnell! Schnell!’” which meant “Hurry up!” in German, Tutti explained, and there were continual threats of being “sent east,” which was code for being sent to an extermination camp.

She shared details she remembers about daily life and work in the camps. Showing a picture of a well-worn doll that her father had given her early in their long odyssey, she explained that her father had filled the doll’s hollow head with money and instructed her never to let the doll out of her sight because the family might need the money one day. As promised, Tutti kept the doll with her at all times until very recently bequeathing it to the Museum of Jewish Civilization at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

Her father’s work as an international metal trader and his forethought to obtain a Paraguayan passport proved to be instrumental in the family’s survival, Tutti said. He was moments away from being forced aboard a train at Theresienstadt destined for a death camp when his passport stayed his departure.

The camp was liberated by the Russians, and the captives were further aided by the United States Army in the spring of 1945. Tutti showed a picture of a U.S. soldier she called her “first crush,” a young man whose name she still remembers, Lloyd Miller, who gave her some chewing gum. Shortly afterwards, her family made their home once again in Amsterdam. Tutti eventually moved to the U. S. and made her home in West Hartford in 1958. Her children, Heidi and Peter L. Fishman ’78, attended Loomis Chaffee.

Bearing witness to history has the power to help humanity endure and even transcend evil, which is why Tutti and Heidi were invited to speak at Freshman Seminar, said Eric LaForest, the Keller Family Director of the Norton Family Center for the Common Good. He thanked them for sharing their family’s story of moral courage with Loomis students.

Sponsored by the Norton Center, their visit to Loomis was made possible from the Carolyn Belfer ’86 Fund for Jewish Life. To learn more, connect to the Norton Center’s page of the Loomis website.


Look what arrived in my mailbox today! 
Tutti’s Promise Holocaust History for Youth in The Norwich Times Summer 2017 issue.

 


Local Author Heidi Fishman Brings to Life Her Family’s Stories of Surviving the Holocaust

May 18, 2017 04:26PM, Published by Linda Ditch in Here in Hanover



Have you ever heard stories from your parents and grandparents and thought, “That would make a great book”? Local author Heidi Fishman felt that way listening to the tales her mother told about her family surviving the Holocaust. She turned their stories into a new book titled Tutti’s Promise.

Here are some answers she shared to questions about the book and how she put it together:Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: I grew up with the knowledge that my mother was a Holocaust survivor. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. My grandparents’ friends were Holocaust survivors. So I didn’t realize how big a deal it was as a child. It was just who my mother was.

Starting about 10 years ago, my mother began talking about her experiences during the war at schools in Connecticut. The students were transfixed. They were amazed that they were meeting someone who was there—who lived the history they were learning about in school. It was after she spoke to my daughter’s seventh-grade class that I realized I had to write the story down or it would be lost. She won’t be around forever to be a witness to history, and future generations need to know that these things really happened.

Q: What part of the story touched you the most?

A: I started by focusing on my mother’s memories. But there were holes. Some things just didn’t add up. So I started to do some research to see if I could find some explanations. One of my first discoveries was a document used during Adolf Eichmann’s trial that had my grandfather’s name on it. That grabbed my attention! Eichmann wrote in a memo (it was signed by his secretary) that seven Jews were not going to be given special treatment even though the Minister of Armaments and Munitions was requesting that their lives be spared. Two top Nazis were arguing over the fate of my grandfather. That discovery was very exciting for me.

As far as a more emotionally poignant moment—and this one actually didn’t end up in the book—was how my grandfather helped a friend of his. The friend and his wife had to go to a concentration camp, and they left their infant daughter in hiding. My grandfather acted as a messenger for this family, as he was given passes to leave the camp. When he left the camp, he would check on the baby for the family and report back to the parents about how she was doing. I am sure it helped them keep their spirits up during their ordeal.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: One of my goals with Tutti’s Promise is to teach middle school and high school students about the Holocaust. I have a website (www.kheidifishman.com) that can be used in tandem with the book. It has discussion questions, links to museums and research websites, family photos, primary documents, and video snippets of my mother’s Shoah testimony from the Shoah Foundation at USC.

Learn more about Heidi and her work by visiting her website


A Promise Kept: Author K. Heidi Fishman Discusses Her New Children’s Holocaust Novel — The Jewish Link — Bronx, Westchester & Connecticut — by Bracha K. Sharp — May 11, 2017 (once you click the link you have to flip to page 22)

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 5.35.36 PM


The Valley News – Book Notes – May 5, 2017 (Note: scroll down into article and look for “Author Appearances”)

K. Heidi Fishman launched her historical novel, Tutti’s Promise, at Crossroads Academy on April 27. The book is based on the life of Fishman’s mother, who was a child in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and survived the Westerbork and Theresienstadt concentration camps, along with her family.

“It just hit me like a ton of bricks one day that this has got to be written down. This history can’t be lost,” Fishman said in a phone interview this week.

Her initial proposal for Tutti’s Promise received the 2015 Joseph Zola Memorial Holocaust Educator Award from the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford.

Fishman, who lives in Norwich, is a retired psychologist who worked at Dartmouth before opening a private practice in Lebanon. More information about Tutti’s Promise can be found at kheidifishman.com.


Vermont Edition (VPR) — Survivors And Witnesses: Vermonters Commemorate The Jewish Holocaust by  Apr 25, 2017


Radio Interview – The River 106.7 with Stevens Blanchard – April 25, 2017


An Author’s Search for Her Mother’s Long-Lost “Star” Leads to Her Holocaust Novel’s Publication – Press Release

Booklist writes, “[A] gripping tale. . . . The spirited, realistic dialogue brings the characters to life, and the documents . . . enhance without cluttering the flow. . . . That the family survived to have this powerful, heartening tale told cannot fail to move readers.”
An Author’s Search for Her Mother’s Long-Lost

Bethesda, MD, April 13, 2017 –(PR.com)– Arriving in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day comes K. Heidi Fishman’s debut novel, Tutti’s Promise (MB Publishing, $9.99, ages 10 and up, ISBN-13: 978-0-99088430-1-6), based on the experiences of her mother, Ruth Lichtenstern Fishman (nicknamed Tutti), and her mother’s family. Their story of survival, courage, and hope includes surprises, raids, sabotage, helpful friends, and kind strangers. And through it all, Tutti’s bravery shines through.

“Tutti’s Promise” recounts Tutti’s journey beginning as a one-year-old child, when her family fled Cologne, Germany, for neighboring Amsterdam in 1936. But four years later, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Unable to escape due to the Nazis’ occupation of neighboring countries and the bordering sea, the Jews were eventually deported to concentration camps, mainly Auschwitz and Sobibor, where more than 102,000 of the approximately 140,000 Jews who had been living there were murdered. Twenty-five to thirty thousand Jews survived by going into hiding. Given these grim statistics, the fact that Tutti’s immediate family survived is astonishing.

The project began when Dr. Fishman realized that, though Tutti had been making presentations to students since 2007, in order to preserve her mother’s story for history, she’d have to document it in a book. Dr. Fishman began researching, including making several trips to Europe. She knew that Tutti’s father, Heinz Lichtenstern, was a trader in metals. But what she didn’t know then was that his expertise was a major factor in the survival of the family. After they had all been transported to Westerbork, a transit camp, Heinz was able to save his family’s life and those of many other Jews by helping to establish the camp’s scrap metal sorting facility, which partially supported the Nazi war machine. Naturally, that’s where the sabotage portion of the story comes in.

Knowing this history made the first document that Dr. Fishman found all the more poignant: “It was from Adolph Eichmann’s trial and stated that the request for seven Jewish metal experts to be exempt from transport out of the Netherlands was denied by Eichmann’s office. The men were identified by name—and my grandfather’s name topped the list.”

Dr. Fishman was introduced to her publisher when she tried to find the yellow cloth star that her mother had been forced to wear. Tutti thought she might have given it to a young man, Jim Catler, who had interviewed her in 1975 for an oral history project for the Greater Hartford Jewish Historical Society. Dr. Fishman located Mr. Catler, who assured her that her mother had not given him the yellow star. He then asked if she had interested a publisher in her book. When she answered “not yet,” Mr. Catler invited his fiancée, Margie Blumberg, the President of MB Publishing, into the conversation. Within a month, the manuscript had found a home, and ten months later, the book was published.

Dr. Fishman has been blogging about her journey and, as a result, many people have reached out to her, such as the woman whose own grandfather had arranged for Tutti’s family’s life-saving passport, and a Dutch author who told her that Tutti’s father helped save the family he was writing about. The blog www.PopjeAndMe.com has a following of about 700 readers and has had over 18,000 hits.

“Tutti’s Promise” is filled with personal family photos and historical documents, such as the family’s Paraguayan passport, which saved Heinz’s life when he found himself on a transport to Auschwitz from Theresienstadt.

Accolades for “Tutti’s Promise” include the following:

​”‘Tutti’s Promise’ is an engrossing story of hope, family, survival, and identity. What’s more, K. Heidi Fishman’s meticulously researched novel blends drama with facts, inspiring the engaged reader to seek answers through a palpable emotional connection to the past. By drawing the reader into the extraordinary experiences of her family, the author offers us the opportunity to see in her characters our very own selves and loved ones.” —Stephen D. Smith, PhD, Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Endowed Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation

Dr. Fishman, a retired psychologist, lives in Vermont with her family.


CT Jewish Ledger March 29, 2017

Published on March 29th, 2017 | by LedgerOnline

Tutti’s Promise tells the story of the Holocaust through a child’s eyes

By Stacey Dresner

WEST HARTFORD – When K. Heidi Fishman was growing up in West Hartford her mother Ruth did not hide the fact that she was a Holocaust survivor from her kids.

“I feel like I always knew her story. I don’t remember the first time I heard it…I knew she had been through the war. She told me, however she told me. Little things would come up and if I asked a question, she would answer it. And then it was: ‘Next topic, what are we going to have for dinner?’ She didn’t dwell on it,” Fishman recalls. “I did not hear horrible Holocaust stories as a child. It just wasn’t done.”

If her family told any stories, she says, it was the “funny stories” like the one about her grandfather hiding stolen vegetables in his pants, nearly getting caught and having diarrhea. After which her grandmother took the soiled vegetables, washed them and served them to the starving family, because wasting any food in that situation would be unconscionable.

“So it was funny, but not funny. When you are told this as a 10- or a 12-year-old, it is pretty funny,” Fishman said. “When you hear it as an adult, it is tragic.”

In the early 1990s when Fishman’s mother began speaking at schools about her experiences as a child inmate at the Theresienstadt concenteration camp, Fishman heard her mother’s full story.

Five years ago when Ruth visited Fishman’s daughter’s 7th grade class to speak, her story resonated with Fishman differently than before.

“It hit me as a mother watching my child listen to it. I was hearing it as a parent. [I thought] How would the parent take care of the child in that situation? I was seeing it through my grandmother’s eyes. So I was watching my daughter and her friends and how they listened to my mom and they were just spellbound… I said, ‘Ok, this has got to be written down.’”

Fishman has written it down and her book, Tutti’s Promise, about her family’s experiences during the Holocaust, will be launched on Monday, April 3 at the Mandell JCC as part of its JCC Book Festival.

Co-sponsoring the event is CT Voices of Hope, the Holocaust education organization of which Fishman’s brother, Peter Fishman is president.

“We both just sort of got interested in [the Holocaust] at the same time and did it in different ways. His interest was to start with fundraising and to help teach other people and to teach children about the Holocaust,” she says. “My way was writing a book about it.”

Fishman’s mother was born Ruth Lichtenstern in 1935 in Germany. Her nickname was Tutti. In 1936, Tutti and her parents, Heinz and Margret, left Germany for Amsterdam.

“They saw the writing on the wall,” Fishman explained. “And the company my father worked for moved the main office from Cologne to Amsterdam. It was a Jewish company and my grandfather went with the move.”

The Lichtensterns’ life in Amsterdam was good for a couple of years – Tutti’s younger brother Robbie was born there in 1938. Then in 1940, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands.

Things were okay for the Lichtensterns for a time.

“It started out normal even though the Germans were there. They way the Nazis invaded the Netherlands was that they made their changes really slow,” Fishman said. “It wasn’t like a Kristallnacht where they just came in and started knocking down all of the synagogues and arresting people. It was slow, insidious changes. Little things. ‘Register your bike, register your car. Now you can’t have your car. Now you can’t have your bike.’ It was little things like that and it slowly crept up on them.”

Fishman’s grandfather worked as a metals commodities trader.

“The Nazis wanted him to stay in his job. Until October 1943, it was useful for him to be working,” Fishman said. “At the same time, he didn’t want to be helping [the Germans].”

The family was sent twice to Westerbork, a transit camp in the Netherlands, the first time in October 1943.

That November they were released with two other families that were also involved in the metals trade. When doing research for the book, Heidi found documents between the office of Adolf Eichmann – the architect of the Final Solution and the department of Armament and Munitions, which needed metal for the war effort.

“These two top very important departments of the Nazis’ machine are arguing what to do with seven – what they called – ‘metal Jews.’ And my grandfather was one of them. So the munitions people are saying let them go we need them so they were let go in November. But then by February, Eichmann’s office gets the upper hand and says, ‘No, they are going back in, we are arresting them. We have gotten rid of all of the Jews in the Netherlands, we want them too.’”

Despite the scrap metal work they were doing – and sabotaging whenever they got the chance – Heinz, Margret, Tutti and Robbie were sent to Theresienstadt in September of 1944. But her father was still valuable due to his connections with the metals industry.

“In Theresienstadt they were no longer living as a family unit. It was my grandmother with the two children and then the men were in a separate barracks. Both sets of my mother’s grandparents were in Theresienstadt as well.”

Tutti’s Promise shares the stories of Tutti’s time in both Westerbork and Theresienstadt. She has memories of regular everyday things – playing with other children, a special doll, childhood crushes, and less pleasant memories, like the hunger.

“My mom’s memories are really child memories. She saw it through a child’s eyes. Her mother…my grandmother is my hero in this. She protected the kids so much,” Fishman said.

After the war, Tutti, now known as Ruth to many in the community, settled in West Hartford – her husband Herbert’s hometown – to raise Heidi and her brothers, Peter and Toni.

Heidi, who attended Renbrook School and Loomis Chaffee, became a psychologist in private practice before she decided to become an author.

Tutti was her main source when writing the book.

“The number of emails back and forth and phone calls back and forth…just looking for details,” said Fishman, who now lives in Vermont with her family. “There were lots of documents, lots of archival stuff and I met with people who knew more stuff, like in the Netherlands there is a digital monument to the Jews called ‘Joods Monument.nl,’ and it lists the 104,000 Jews that were murdered during the war, what happened to them…pictures, last residence, family connections, it’s amazing. And I met different people who knew different bits of the story. I tracked down the family members of the seven ‘metal Jews’ to try to find out what they knew about their grandfather or uncle.”

While searching the Dutch Holocaust website, Fishman even found a history professor working on his own book, who was able to fill her and her family in on how her own Uncle Bobby had tried to escape to London with a friend, but was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

In the book, Tutti makes two big promises, which will not be given away here. Fishman wants middle-schoolers to read about the promises on their own.

“I want middle school social studies teachers to pick it up and use it. Because I think it really teaches the Holocaust. You start from a family where everything was fine and then an invasion and how their life changes, and you get all these steps along the way,” Fishman said.

On the website, she has included discussion questions for each chapter “so teachers can have that right there and ready to go…I want it all to be there. If they want to teach the Holocaust, it is all there.”

But she adds that the book is also appropriate for adults.

“I intended it for middle school when I was writing it. That was my audience. And as friends started to read drafts, they said, ‘What do you mean middle school – I love this!’ Every adult I know who has read it says it is not a kid’s book. Kids can definitely understand it, but this is an absolutely great read for adults too. It’s an everybody book.”

Fishman won the 2015 Joseph Zola Memorial Holocaust Educator Award from the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford for Tutti’s Promise’s book proposal.

Avinoam Patt, professor of Modern Jewish History at the Greenberg Center and director of its Museum of Jewish Civilization, reviewed the book, calling it “a compelling story for all readers about one family’s remarkable tale of survival during the Holocaust. K. Heidi Fishman does a masterful job of weaving together Holocaust history with the account of Tutti and her family… The book fills an important gap in the available literature on the subject…”

Fishman said that message of Tutti’s Promise is one of acceptance.

“The message is that people have to stop being prejudiced against each other because of some arbitrary label, color, religion, whether you can walk, or you have trouble breathing. None of that matters. We are all human beings. We have to get along. And when we start labeling other people as ‘them’ we have a problem. I want people to stop seeing the ‘thems’ – because this is what it leads to.”