Sometimes you hear a story, and you just know it has to be told. And sometimes you realize the only person who’s going to tell that story is you.
For years, Karen Treiger had heard the stories about how her in-laws met in the forest outside the Treblinka Death Camp during the Holocaust. Sam escaped after taking part in a small but mighty uprising in the camp. In the forest he met Esther, who’d been hiding there with the help of neighboring farmers for a year. The pair hid in the forest for another year before the country was liberated by the Soviets, and they eventually made their way to America.
Karen had always been fascinated by the story and wanted to make sure it was preserved but wasn’t sure she was the one to do it. She was a lawyer who had never had dreams of being an author—she’d never even written more than law briefs and legal documents. But when her father passed away about five years ago, and her youngest daughter was getting ready to head to college, it seemed like the time was right.
“The stars aligned,” Karen says. “I knew if I was ever going to do it, this was it.”
So she quit her law practice and dove into the story—and she hasn’t looked back. Karen began the process of writing “My Soul is Filled with Joy: A Holocaust Story,” with countless hours of research. She read boxes of letters, traveled to Poland twice, met long-lost relatives, and walked through the same forest her in-laws met and hid so many years ago. She was even able to connect with three of the surviving children from the family that helped hide Sam and Esther. And slowly the story morphed from Karen’s original plan.
“Their story became my story,” she says. Karen eventually structured the book in two parts: one that recounts Sam and Esther’s story, and a second part that focuses on her own journey through the past.
Karen is already being recognized for her work: she won a 2019 Independent Publisher Book Award bronze medal in the world history category. And now she’s thrilled to bring her family’s story to the J. Karen grew up on Mercer Island, and joyfully recalls hours spent in the JCC pool at swim team practice. “Coming back and bringing a piece of myself as an adult to this space where I have so many amazing memories from growing up is really exciting.”
The fact that her talk is on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) makes it even more powerful. She acknowledges how difficult it can be to really feel the reality of the atrocity when you just think of the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust as a generic number—and that’s part of what she’s trying to combat with her book. “By telling the story of two people, you can better understand the whole,” she says. “My hope is that it helps bring the 6 million into focus in a way that’s meaningful.”