Gentile chronicler of Holocaust stories tours Israel

Beasley is busy touring the country with her host Gad Moshe Shalom, the son of Emmanuel Shlom – one of the Holocaust survivors she wrote about in 'Izzy’s Fire.'

September 14, 2010 05:24
2 minute read.
Symbols of the Holocaust.

yellow stars 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Nothing in Nancy Wright Beasley’s upbringing hints at the interest the 65-year-old author from Richmond, Virginia, has taken in Jewish subjects over the past 13 years. Born into a gentile family in the US South, she had no Jewish friends growing up and her father had a deep bias against Jews.

However, when she was asked to write about a Holocaust memorial day as a reporter for Richmond Magazine in 1997 it changed her life forever, she said.

“For months I refused it because I can’t stand the Holocaust, it’s so terrible,” she recalled in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday during her first visit to Israel. “I’m very tender-hearted. I told my friend it would kill me to do it, and she said that’s why you have to do it.”

She attended a local Kristallnacht remembrance ceremony and it sparked her interest in the subject. Eventually, her empathy for the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust led her to pen Izzy’s Fire: Finding Humanity in the Holocaust (2005), a widely read book that documents how a poor Catholic farm family helped save 13 Lithuanian Jews during World War II.

On Wednesday, Beasley will give a talk at the Jerusalem Rotary Club at the YMCA on the subject of “Recording Holocaust Survivor History.”

She said being invited to speak by Rotary International, of which she is a member, was particularly exciting because of its commitment to fighting polio, which she contracted as a young girl.

“I had polio when I was six years old (1952 – during one of the worst epidemics in Virginia at that time) and was not supposed to walk again,” she said. “I was incredibly blessed to have a mother who refused that diagnosis and did not give up on helping me overcome the results of the disease, after months of hospitalization.”

Since the publication of Izzy’s Fire, the book has been continuously taught in many schools, colleges and universities. When Beasley was in Lithuania, there was quite an interest in Izzy’s Fire, which resulted in several stories being published, including translations of a portion of the book. Beasley will be speaking at the Tolerance Center in Vilnius following her visit to Israel.

In the meantime, Beasley is busy touring the country with her host Gad Moshe Shalom, the son of Emmanuel Shlom – one of the Holocaust survivors she wrote about in Izzy’s Fire. Emmanuel Shlom died shortly after the book was published.

“I just spent the day at Yad Vashem and I’m speechless, there are no words for that,” she said. “If I had a message it’s that we have to learn to get along, no matter how different we may be.”

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