A story decades in the making, chronicling love and courage, has touched the hearts of people across the United States.
Local author Ann Walsh released her book “Dancing Through Darkness,” which is based on the diary of a holocaust survivor, last March and she said it is “doing beautifully and has kept me busy, busy, busy.”
To that end, Walsh said she will be in Alabama next week to kick off the “Read Alabama” celebration, followed by a trip to Atlanta, Ga. and San Jose, Calif. for speaking engagements. The visit to Alabama will be her 37th speaking engagement since the book was released last year.
The book is based on the diary of Saartje Wijnberg, who was renamed Selma when her family was attempting to hide from invading Nazis in her native Netherlands. It chronicles the story of how Selma and her husband, Chaim Engel met while in the Sobibor concentration camp.
“I cut out [Chaim’s] obit in July 2003,” Walsh recalled. “Finally in January of 2007, I decided to either contact his family to tell them how much I admired his courage or forget the whole thing. We spoke for a few weeks. I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated her husband’s courage in their escape.”
“She was so glad to have someone to talk to because she was still grieving his death,” Walsh said.
As far as the document upon which most of the story is based and much of the text is included in the book, Walsh said she and Selma searched for a good while because “she didn’t even know where it was.”
“We searched for her diary the better part of the morning,” Walsh said. “It was a little book, a 2-by-4-inch page.
“I told her, ‘It doesn’t belong in the floor of your closet - it belongs in the Holocaust Museum.’”
Despite Walsh’s encouragement, she noted that Selma “was not convinced it was worthy of being in the Holocaust Museum.”
After some discussion, the diary was placed in the museum in 2008 or 2009, according to Walsh.
“On her 91st birthday (May 15, 2013), I presented her with her copy of the book, she said ‘thank you for doing this,’” Walsh said. “She signed a copy for the Holocaust Museum, Gov. [Bill] Haslam, and for my children. I want to be able to pass this knowledge to them.”
She said she feels it is very important that future generations are aware of events such as the holocaust so that they know the atrocities and can learn from them. Her presentations in schools regarding the book are tailored to that very idea.
“The gist of my presentation is - the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to remain silent.
“When I do the presentation in schools fourth grade to high school, it is equated to bullying. If you look at the number of suicides, somebody knows about [the bullying] and they were afraid to stand up.”
Walsh said that she had spoken at some schools two or three prior to the book ever being published where she told some of Selma’s story and asked the students to write letters explaining how her story related to their lives.
“What they expressed in those letters blew me away - they were so into what happened to this young girl.”
She said she often shares some of those letters with adult groups she presents to. She calls the experience “amazing” and said “it has been a gift.” She noted she gets more and more people at her presentations that “come up to me afterwards and say ‘thank you for doing this.’”
“It is a beautiful story on multiple levels,” said Walsh. “It is unbelievable what they survived.”
Walsh said that she still keeps in touch with Selma and they talk “about every two weeks.”