Before I took my first trip to Israel--the one that resulted in my upcoming book "Jerusalem Journal"--I read everything I could find on the history and background of the area. That necessarily involved study of the Nazi Holocaust. It would be impossible to understand Israeli Jews without some knowledge of the great historical tragedy which had befallen the Jewish people just a few decades earlier.
It was in Nora Levin's fine book "The Holocaust" that I first came upon the name of Gisi Fleischmann of Slovakia--attached to fragments of a tale of extradordinary heroism that was entirely new to me.I recognized at once that Gisi had been a person of great historical importance--the only woman who had taken the lead in Jewish resistance to Nazism in an entire nation. As I continued to lay plans for my trip, I also searched for a book about her. I soon learned, to my perplexity, that there didn't seem to be any. At least, not in English.
The closest thing was her friend Y.O. Neumann's "Gisi Fleischmann: The Story Of a Heroic Woman." Dr. Neumann did this small work for WIZO, the Women"s International Zionist Organization, a group in which Gisi long played a leading role.But his book revealed little about Gisi Fleischmann the human being, which was what most interested me.
Later I decided that, if there were going to be a book about Gisi, I would have to write it. Dr. Neumann encouraged my work in every possible way, and we conducted a long correspondence. Later I met him at his home in Beer Tuvia, and he presented me with a copy of "Im Schatten des Todes," his German-language memoir of his Holocaust experiences.
(More memorable than that: Upon my arrival the old gentleman gave me a gift of tangerines he had picked from the tree in his own yard. That was one of the finest gifts I have ever received.)
At least a year and a half elapsed between the time I discovered Gisi's name in Professor Levin's book and my decision to write "In The Lion's Mouth: Gisi Fleischmann and the Jewish Fight For Survival"--which may be one of the clumsiest titles in the history of books; but never mind. There it is.
I was deeply aware that, once I began, I would be involved in a moral obligation that would make this a very difficult work to walk away from. Therefore, I had to be certain my resolve was up to the task. Over what have sometimes seemed endless years of testing of that resolve, I have had frequent cause to be glad I was sure of myself before I started.
Did I succeed in the task I set myself? No--and yes. I have at last made it possible for at least a few more people to come to know Gisi's story; and, through the magic of Print-On-Demand publishing, many more can learn it in the future. That is something, though it is nothing like the huge audience I still feel the story deserves.
I had hoped to be able to produce a full-length portrait of Gisi, this ordinary-extraordinary heroic figure. But, with the resources available to me, all I have been able to do is a sketch, fading tantalizingly into the background. Perhaps so much had been lost by the time I began that it was already too late for a full portrait.
But I feel the sketch was worth doing. In an era short of heroic figures and full of gross selfishness, Gisi is more than ever worth remembering. She, who understood that unless the community survives, nothing survives, can still serve as a rallying point for those few today who share that understanding.