Jewish Journal

Holocaust Book Reading Brings on Reunion and More

by Ryan Torok

Posted on May. 3, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Dina Frydman Balbien, 81, whose experiences in the Holocaust are told in a book written by her daughter, Tema N. Merback , wasn’t expecting to find Betty Feuerstein, who is also in her 80s, at a reading of Merback’s book on April 29. The two worked together around 1950 at the Max Factor cosmetic company in Los Angeles, Feuerstein said, but had not seen each other since.

Feuerstein found out that Balbien would be at the reading through an advance article about the event in the April 29 issue of The Jewish Journal.

“I wanted to see her again after all these years,” said Feuerstein, who sat in the audience as Merback read excerpts. “So many people I have worked with have passed away. Thank God she’s still alive.”

Balbien, who was 21 and living near Boyle Heights at the time she worked at Max Factor as a bookkeeper, beamed upon seeing Feuerstein.

“Every day we used to go to lunch,” Balbien said.

Merback, a congregant, read from “In the Face of Evil” at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue in commemoration of Yom HaShoah, the day of Holocaust remembrance.

“People have approached me and asked me to write my story,” Balbien said before the event, “and I said, ‘If anybody is going to write it, it will be my daughter.’ ”

Merback read passages about the Germans’ bombing in 1939 of Balbien’s hometown in Radom, Poland, as well as about Balbien’s family’s deportation to Pionki, Poland, in 1943, causing her separation from the man she loved.

Merback’s novel, which she self-published in December 2010, is unusual in that it is told in the first-person point of view from Balbien’s perspective, beginning in the summer of 1939, when Balbien was 10, and following the girl through her life in the ghetto, to a labor camp and Auschwitz.

“It is difficult to reconcile his reputation for cruelty with the good-looking man that stands before us,” Merback read, describing her mother’s encounter at Auschwitz with Josef Mengele, a SS officer and physician, showing the book’s unsettling humanity alongside vivid descriptions of Balbien’s life during the war.

Prior to the reading, Rabbi Judith HaLevy, rabbi of the Reconstructionist congregation, led Shabbat services.

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