Stories from the Holocaust by Nancy Wright Beasley
Izzy’s Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust is about the “miraculous journey that finally led Edna Ipson and her family from the heel of the Nazis to ‘the other side of hell.’” The Little Lion is the story of Laibale Gillman, a teenager living in Lithuania who showed courage beyond his years by devising a plan that helped several of his family members escape Kovno Ghetto, where they were forced by Nazi troops. Nancy Wright Beasley, author of both books, sat down with us to discuss what led her to these stories and why it is important to tell them for generations to come.
Why do you think this time period is covered now more than ever, and why is that important?
Firsthand history is quickly diminishing. Most Holocaust survivors are quite elderly, even if they were children or just born at the end of the Holocaust, they are now in their 70s. The firsthand accounts, memoirs, and gripping stories are so important because [the Holocaust] had horrendous consequences and always will. We will not live long enough, I don’t think, to outlive the consequences. Think of what was taken from our world. How many great writers, physicians, inventors, and scientists? I think we owe it to them to tell their stories.
What led you to these specific stories out of so many from the Holocaust?
I’ve always said that Izzy’s Fire chose me. The decision was made for me to write about the Holocaust in Richmond at the Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery. Every November, they have a Kristallnacht ceremony to remember the “Night of Broken Glass.” I went to the ceremony one year, and I heard a beautiful service that November day. At the end, the survivors walk to the microphone and say the names of family members that did not survive. Alan Zimm was the last one. I counted on my fingers as he said the names, and I ran out of fingers before he ran out of names. I went up to him afterwards and I told him he had changed my life. I had to write about the Holocaust.
How did The Little Lion come about after writing Izzy’s Fire?
The Little Lion is a character in Izzy’s Fire. I could not tell his story at the same time, because it would have deviated from the story I was trying to tell in Izzy’s Fire. I went to my friend, Neil November, and he asked what I had in mind next. A friend of mine told me I needed to go to Hollins University. I went to see Neil, and he thought I should enroll and financed it. He had no idea what I was going to write and neither did I. I thought it would be a children’s storybook, and what it became was a young adult novel based on Laibale Gillman.
The Little Lion was adapted for the stage by Irene Ziegler, and the world premier was held January 30 through March 5, 2016 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre in South Chesterfield, Virginia. A stage reading will take place at Mill Mountain Theatre on Friday, September 8 at 7pm, and Saturday, September 9 at 8pm. Beasley will be available following both performances to sign books. She will also be speaking at the South County Library in Roanoke on Saturday, September 2 at 2pm, and will be selling signed copies of her book afterwards.
If you are interested in learning more about Beasley’s career, including her trips to Lithuania and the descendants and survivors behind her stories, purchasing her books, or subscribing to her newsletter, visit www.nancywrightbeasley.com.