When a person reaches his or her later years, yet is still active and mentally acute, it is time to seriously engage in a process known in Judaism as heshbon ha’nefesh. We are called on to take a personal accounting, to reflect on our accomplishments in life and the legacy that will be left after we have gone. I feel exceedingly blessed and more than ready to undertake my personal heshbon ha’nefesh. I have written this book as my way of accomplishing that...
Quotes from this chapter
The survival skills I honed during those terrible years—my street smarts, intuitive sense of human nature and ability to make shrewd decisions—were the same skills that helped me to navigate my postwar personal reinvention.
My postwar reinvention began with convincing my reluctant father to emigrate with me from Soviet Russia, and then taking actions to make that happen. I learned then to take ownership of a problem and solve it for myself.
Tateh manifested a will to live so strong that he could seemingly withstand all hardships. Instead of giving in to our apparent fate, he was able to fix his mind on a steadfast goal of staying alive one day at a time.
I take from Judaism what is valuable to me, and I always try to give back more than I take.
I proudly can claim to have realized the American Dream beyond anything I might have imagined. Yet with all that I have achieved during more than eight decades on this planet, I am first and foremost a survivor.
I have learned not to judge harshly our elders on the Judenrat, who acted as honorably as was possible under terrible circumstances.
When I am written in the Book of Life, I will be remembered as someone who survived the Nazis, who lived his life as a mensch and who was able to make a lasting contribution.
My mother gave me so many blessings before she was taken, but no gift was as important as her willingness to let go of me when I announced my intention to escape on the day of the roundup.
We serve the public good by providing decent, affordable housing for lower and middle income families in New York City. I take pride in being able to help so many people obtain shelter while also doing well for my family and employees.
Now I have reached the tender age of eighty-six, I feel blessed and ready to undertake my personal heshbon ha’nefesh. I have written this book as my way of accomplishing that.
When I try to analyze what were the qualities I possessed that served to prolong my life, the first thing I come up with is common sense. You relied on your street smarts to make calculated decisions.
I began in life as Munye Epshteyn—devoted son, mamzer, Jew. I survived to become Michael Edelstein—proud American, family man, Jew.
When I look back at these events from more than 70 years’ distance, I can't help but wonder, “Was that really me who did all of that?”
I brought my children into the real-estate business, and helped them to spin off property-management companies of their own. We have done it together as a family, every step of the way.
I am happy to say that I followed through on the commitment I made during my 1999 return trip to Skala. In 2004, these Olenka Kovaleshyn and Nicolai Getman were formally recognized in Jerusalem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Those of my generation who made it through had within us the tools to accomplish exceptional things. We applied the same skills and strategies we had used to outwit the Nazis.
Book excerpts about the people, places and events mentioned in the book
Holocaust survivor scholar; author of Against All Odds
The author reflecting on life
Jewish journalist and interfaith activist; co-author of Live Another Day
Ukrainian police official who brutalized Jews
The author's father, a tinsmith by trade, was also a survivor
The author's mother who urged him to "Run, my child."
Munye's closest companion in the bunkers
Some catchy teaser text for this featured person.
Munye's bunker buddy who joined his household in the aftermath
Ukrainian livery driver who smuggled Munye and Shulem out of Borshchow
Ukrainian townswomen of Skala who provided sustenance for Munye, Shulem and Lonye
The author's partner in life and business
The author's first-born child followed him in business
Son of the author who followed him in the roofing and property management trades
The author's daughter also entered the family business