Oestermann every second .
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Not long after Richard Oestermann started his journalism career as a young man, he was granted an interview with former US President Harry Truman at Truman's presidential library in Kansas City.
Truman, it turned out, wanted to ask his young, Danish-born interviewer about the prospects for Scandinavian involvement in NATO. Oestermann responded to the politician's query with his own request. "I said, 'President Truman, I have 25 questions and half an hour. Could you wait to ask your question until after the interview?'" Oestermann, who turns 80 this year, recalled. "He looked at me like I had such nerve" - a reaction the young writer would experience a second time during a similar later exchange in an interview with David Ben-Gurion.
Oestermann recounted these memories in connection with Every Second Counts, a new book featuring the writer's Norwegian newspaper accounts of the second intifada, as well as other stories he's cultivated to portray Israeli life beyond the violence constantly shown in the media. He spoke about the book earlier this week to a small Jerusalem crowd, thanking his attentive audience by acknowledging the "heavy competition tonight with TV [news]."
A resident of Israel since arriving to cover the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, Oestermann searched the country for ordinary people and their stories during the writing of Every Second Counts. The book's title comes from a story on rescue service group Zaka and its founder, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, who emphasized to Oestermann the importance of each moment in rescue efforts following suicide bombings and other emergencies.
The author says that perhaps the most important section of his new book deals with would-be suicide bombers who change their minds before going through with attacks. After several requests were denied by prison officials, the former member of the Danish resistance was allowed to speak with aspiring suicide bombers in a Sharon Valley prison, visits he recalls in the book.
Oestermann said he was surprised during his research to find similar ideas occasionally voiced by people from seemingly opposite worlds. A 17-year-old would-be suicide bomber and a Danish nun expressed nearly identical views about the violence of the intifada, both hopefully telling the journalist that, "after war, there's always peace." He wiped his eye as he told the story of Kari Smith, a resident of Kibbutz Yagur when the community lost five members in a terror attack at Haifa's Maxim restaurant.
The most difficult story for Oestermann to recount, and one he did not speak of at the lecture, appears in the last chapter in the book, which tells of Oestermann's escape with his family from Nazioccupied Denmark to Sweden. "My editor in Norway wanted me to write about it," the white-haired writer said. "For me, it was a challenge, because I'd never written on this before." He went on to describe the vividness of his memories, like his sister's nearly being sucked into a fishing boat propeller while swimming to safety on the Swedish shore.
A partisan fighter in World War II, Oestermann is writing about rather than participating in the current fight at Israel's northern border. He's covered each of Israel's wars since the 1956 Sinai campaign and has written about the country's battle against Hizbullah for a Norwegian newspaper over the past three weeks. "Is it the worst [war]? I don't know," he said simply. "How do you grade a war? Israel has to be strong and stand up for itselfâ€¦ I have a lot of faith, not only in the Israeli army, but in the Israeli people, and I think they will pull through."
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