When Karen Treiger set out to tell the harrowing tale of her in-laws’ Holocaust survival, the last thing she expected to find was joy. Yet in the research and writing of Sam and Esther Goldberg’s story, she discovered not only joy, but also profound gratitude. “The title epitomizes what happened to me in the writing of this book,” Treiger said.
“My Soul Is Filled With Joy: A Holocaust Story” (Stare Lipki Press, 2018) chronicles Sam Goldberg’s escape from the death camp Treblinka during the prisoner uprising and how he met Esther hiding in the forest. With the help of a Polish farm family, the couple, along with Esther’s teenage companion, survived for a year living in a pit they dug in the forest and taking refuge in the family’s barn during the freezing winter months.
A former editor in chief of the New York University Law Review, Treiger retired from her 18-year Seattle law practice in 2015 to research and write this story. The book won the PNWA Nancy Pearl Books Award for best memoir and the bronze medal in world history from the Independent Publishers Association.
Esther Goldberg died 22 years ago, and her husband died 17 years ago. “The story has been sitting on my heart all these years,” Treiger said. “I worried the story would die with them.” Her research led her to Poland where she was given letters found in Sam Goldberg’s apartment. Through the letters, she located three surviving members of the family who had sheltered her in-laws.
Using a translator, she told a grandson what his family had done for hers. During their conversation, she found the title for her book. “He was a very religious man and overwhelmed with emotion,” Treiger said. “He put his hand on his heart and said, ‘My heart is full, and my soul is filled with joy.’ ”
Treiger’s husband, Sheldon Goldberg, and four children accompanied her to Poland in 2016 where the grandson orchestrated a meeting with the surviving Stys family members. Eugenuisz Stys recalled taking food to the Golbergs as they hid in the forest.
“I was 9, and I pretended to play in the forest,” he said. “The Nazis didn’t bother me.” Together, Treiger and her family retraced the Goldbergs’ journey. They visited the barn where the couple had been sheltered in a false haystack.
“Would you like to see the pit where they hid?” Eugenuisz Stys asked. Stunned, they agreed. “We walked about 15 minutes into the forest, and a remnant of the pit was still there,” Treiger said. “That moment changed me dramatically. We stood in silence, crying, looking into that pit.”
As they had prepared for the journey, Treiger’s husband struggled with how to thank the family who saved his parents. Ultimately, he settled on a song. “He’s very musically talented,” Treiger said. “He composed music for three verses of Psalm 30.”
Standing in the home of the Stys family, Treiger, her husband and their four children sang the song to them. Psalms 30:3 reads, “O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: Thou hast kept me alive that I should not go down to the pit.”
It was a powerful moment for all. While the first part of the book tells the Goldbergs’ story of survival, the second half details how Treiger was changed in writing it. She said she wondered, as the generation of Holocaust survivors dies, how we will effectively tell their stories. Then it came to her – we make them our own.
“Over the course of three years, their story became my story,” Treiger said. “You feel my passion because it’s deep within me. I’m telling what happened to me while writing this. It becomes living history.”
When she looked down into the pit her in-laws called home for a year, she knew she’d never be the same. “I realized I couldn’t take what I had for granted,” Treiger said. “Now I pause and think much more deeply about what I have.”
Treiger will discuss her book from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at Southside Community Center. Books will be available for purchase at the event and Auntie’s Bookstore. A light dinner with no-host wine bar from 5-6 p.m. is included, and the presentation begins at 6. Reservations are recommended.