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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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A Survivor’s Tale

Plato is credited with saying people should be kind because “everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

While I’ve never met Millie Werber of Great Neck, her hard battle to survive World War II, first in Poland and then in Germany, has been memorably chronicled by Werber and Eve Keller in the just-published Two Rings: A Story of Love and War (PublicAffairs, 2012).

Keller, who also resides in Great Neck, is a professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the English Department at Fordham University. Professor Keller met her co-author through David Werber, one of Millie’s two sons, and will be talking about Two Rings on Tuesday, May 1 at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, 113 West 60th Street, 12th Floor, Manhattan, as one of the panelists convening at 7 p.m. to discuss ‘The Art of the Memoir.’

Readers needing a reminder of the death and destruction Nazi Germany wrought across Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s can look no further than what Millie Werber and her late husband, Jack, endured as Jewish citizens who lived in Poland during that era. By the time Millie and Jack cross paths, however, the war has ended, and both have already been married to other people. Millie Werber’s first husband, who she wed at the age of 16, was Heniek Greenspan, a Jewish police officer 12 years her senior. He did not survive World War II but his face appears on the book’s cover jacket along with his teenaged bride. Jack Werber’s first wife, Rachel, and their three-year-old daughter, Emma, had also died by the time Europe was liberated in 1945.

Werber and Keller movingly convey the hopelessness of being a teenager, a widow, and a factory worker at a Nazi-operated facility, with no end to the casual cruelty and violent deaths in sight. In addition, Werber’s 1943 marriage, her time at Auschwitz in 1944, and subsequent relocation to Lippstadt, Germany in 1945 are covered in great detail and make for a compelling read.

Kirkus Reviews had high praise for the book, too. “Werber’s story is wholly engrossing, written with exceptional immediacy and attention to detail,” they wrote. “A deeply affecting addition to Holocaust literature.”

Millie, who is in her mid-80s, and Jack Werber were married for more than 60 years. Their union ended upon Jack’s death in 2006, at the age of 92. Both knew about one another’s first marriages, although Millie, the book explains, never told her two sons about “her first husband, in large measure because she feared their judgment...she worried (wrongly) that they would think it improper.”

Millie and Jack Werber, who built a successful real estate business in Queens, moved to Great Neck in 2002 to be near their two sons, David and Martin Werber, both of whom live in Great Neck with their families. Indeed, the Werbers’ sons, who are in their 60s, took over their parents’ business and have expanded it to include services such as real estate development and hotel management. They both have three children, and are grandparents, too, meaning Millie Werber, who cheated death on numerous occasions as a teenager, lived to become a great grandmother.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net