For the past year and a half I’ve been working with Rabbi Samuel Cywiak of the Sons of Israel Synagogue in St. Augustine, FL to help produce his Holocaust survival memoir, “Flight from Fear.” I am the ghostwriter for his memoir. Rabbi Cywiak is 89 years young, and is very sharp and mobile for a man his age. He was only 19 when the Nazis invaded his hometown of Wyszków, Poland at the start of World War II. He escaped death and capture many times and experienced numerous miracles during the Holocaust to be able to serve as a rabbi for over sixty years.
Now when I discuss this project with people, I usually get asked one of three questions:
1) What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is not someone who tells scary stories of poltergeists or haunts. There are a few terrific writers who are already covering those topics in my neighboring city, St. Augustine, FL, which is the oldest city in the U.S. and known as being a ghost town of sorts. No, a ghostwriter is simply an author who researches, interviews, and writes a book for a person with a remarkable or marketable story, who does not have the expertise to do the writing on their own. A ghostwriter may or may not get writing credit for his or her efforts. Thankfully, I will be getting one.
To elaborate, think of all these celebrity tell-alls where you know that the “author” can barely string a few meaningful words together let alone write intelligent prose. That’s not the case with the Rabbi—he’s quite intelligent. But English is not his first language. He speaks Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, and a little Polish and Russian too. But even if he wrote perfect English, it takes an experienced writer to be able to organize the material into a logical and readable format, making it palatable for mass consumption.
2) Are you Jewish?
No, I’m not Jewish. I was raised Roman Catholic and consider myself to be a Christian. But faith in God is faith in God, and that alone gave the Rabbi and me something in common.
Sure there was an additional learning curve for me, being that I am not a Jew. I had to learn about the religion, custom, culture, and language. And I think that was actually to our advantage, because I wanted to add some of these details in the memoir so that other non-Jewish readers could understand things that are common knowledge for most Jews.
3) How did you become involved with this project?
Through an announcement that was made by Karen Harvey at the Ancient City Chapter meeting for the Florida Writers Association. Karen, a local author and historian, mentioned that a local Rabbi, originally from Poland, was seeking an author to write his Holocaust memoir. World War II and the Holocaust had always left me both horrified and fascinated. I’ve also wanted to learn more about my Polish roots, so this project seemed ideal for me.
Karen put me in touch with Rabbi Cywiak once I had expressed interest, and the two of us got along right away. It became a much bigger challenge than I had expected. Hours upon hours of interviews, research, writing and rewriting. But with the first draft under our belt and a publisher on board, all the time and effort is promising to pay off in the near future.
I will make further announcements once we have a more definitive date for publication, but right now we’re looking at early 2010. I hope you decide to invest the time into reading this memoir. Rabbi Cywiak is sharing his 89 years of struggle, wisdom, humor, faith, hope, and love with us, to help guide us through our own struggles and difficulties. To remind us to be compassionate toward others, even if they have different beliefs.
And most importantly, to remind us of what happened during the Holocaust, so that an event like it may never happen again.