Book fulfils promise to recount survivor’s story


Journalist Peter Harris promised Holocaust survivor Alan Weiler that his story would not be forgotten when he volunteered to write his memoir.

More than 40 years later the account of how Mr Weiler survived eight concentration camps from Estonia to Germany has finally been published.

Sadly, Mr Weiler did not live to see it happen — he passed away in 1977.

Mr Harris, who met the survivor while working on the Manchester Evening News, secured the publication of the book, God’s Sabbatical Years, after years of trying.

The 77-year-old, from Sandbach, Cheshire, who is now retired, said: “We used to meet once a week at his home until late in the night, where we recorded his recollections on tape and then I would ghost-write it chapter by chapter.

“When it was completed Alan was adamant that it should be called God’s Sabbatical Years, contending that ‘if there is God in heaven he must have been on holiday during his suffering’.”

The book tells how, when returning from a holiday in Italy in 1965, Mr Weiler heard there was a trial in Hechingen, Germany, of three Nazi officers who served in the concentrations camps he had been in. Despite vowing never to set foot in Germany again, he decided to attend the trial. Mr Harris explained: “When Alan listened to the cross-examinations, he realised that he was able to answer questions that some of the witnesses could not answer.

“He shouted from the gallery and the trial was halted while he gave his evidence to the prosecutor. It was largely as a result of his testimony that the three Nazi defendants were convicted.”

Mr Weiler’s family all perished in the Holocaust. “It was against all the odds that Alan survived,” Mr Harris said. “He did it through a combination of guile, good luck and his innate will to live. The fact that he could speak a number of languages and that he was young and fit were also real bonuses.

Mr Harris originally printed three copies of the memoir. He said: “Alan sent one copy to the Russian embassy where he hoped it would be used for anti-Nazi propaganda. A second copy was sent to a German magazine publisher but it was apparently destroyed in an office fire and I kept the only remaining copy on a bookshelf in my study.”

But the journalist was concerned that he had not been able to keep his promise to Mr Weiler. “So I donated the manuscript to the Wiener Library in London, who encouraged me to find a publisher so that his story could be given a wide audience,” Mr Harris said.

After two deals fell through, he came across Yizhor Books, which recognised the work’s importance.

Joel Alpert, project co-ordinator for Yizhor, said: “We are extremely proud of this book and delighted that we have made it possible for Peter to keep his promise to Alan. Importantly, it also provides new, first-hand material about the Holocaust.”

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