An Interview with Author Sherwin Gluck

I am honored to have author Sherwin Gluck join me this week to provide further insight on his work on his father’s memoir. Glucks father escaped Czechoslovakia with three of his siblings in 1940, making their way to America.

Q: Can you describe Private Good Luck in 20 words or less?

The remarkable, true story of a teenage Jewish immigrant turned American combat soldier set during the horrors of World War II. 

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

This was my Dad’s true story. I’ve written it in his voice, and he approved it before his death 4 years ago. Growing up, he told me bits and pieces, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I decided to formally interview him. One motivating factor was that I didn’t want to be that person who says “Well, my Dad served somewhere, or he came from such and such village, but I don’t know anything more because I didn’t ask while he was alive.” My mission was to combine all this information into a cohesive, compelling, factual narrative that would capture my children’s attention, and hopefully educate others.

Q: Did you find it challenging to work on such a personal story?

Before my Dad died, it wasn’t difficult at all. Afterwards, everything, every tiny scrap, took on huge significance to me. When I had a question about something, a word in a letter, the location of a photo, I always had the thought that it would have been so easy to ask him, and now it’s this huge mystery to solve. 

Q: Can you tell me more about the research that went into writing this story?

The book grew out of the series of interviews that I did with him, as well as my attempt to find out exactly what happened to his family back in Europe. Additionally, I was also fortunate to have encouraged him, and my Aunt (his older sister) to translate many of our family’s collection of letters from Hungarian to English. These include more than 1,500 letters and correspondence dating from the years 1938 through 1945, and later, from him and their family: my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, including children who expressed their desire to come to America but were instead murdered by the Nazis. The collection also included letters from non-Jewish neighbors that they were friends with before the war expressing their own misfortunes after the war. Through these letters, I learned the small, but fascinating first hand details that I included in the story. Finally, despite the Nazi effort to destroy their own records, I was able to find original concentration camp documents that show my family’s movement from Hungary to Auschwitz and to Mauthausen. This was an arduous process that began back in 1945 when my Dad first filed missing person reports with the Red Cross. He and I filed new missing person’s reports with them in the 90’s. We filed again with the US Holocaust Museum when it opened, however there was nothing new until the archives in Bad Arolsen were digitized and opened to outside researchers in the early 2000s. Through many determined searches using various spellings (and misspellings), I found some information on the website JewishGen, which I then passed to the Holocaust Museum. With some patience, they then found a lot of the documentation I included at the end of the book. However, as documents from Bad Arolsen became available online, I was able to find more. Finally, the last document we received showing my cousin’s deportation from Mauthausen back to Auschwitz was the result of one researcher’s heroic effort to search every transport for the last name, Schwartz, until she found his name. A truly remarkable find that corroborated his brother’s testimony. I received that just before the book went to press in early 2019.

The military research was also somewhat complicated because of the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center that destroyed many WWII military records. However, my Dad had several books that he marked with post-its, showing the pages that discussed his unit’s action. Of course, his calendar book and v-mail were invaluable in corroborating his location and dates. About 9 months after my Dad died, we went as a family to Italy to retrace, as much as we could, my Dad’s journey as a combat soldier. We took a guided tour of Anzio and Nettuno, and stood next to the “Pine Woods” where my Dad “lived” from January ’44 until breakout, and then drove south past Monte Cassino to climb Monte Porchia. I write about this in the book’s epilogue because of the many “surprises” along the way. Most importantly, I found the exact location where a particular photo of my Dad was taken. However, just being in these locations allowed me to describe them more faithfully than I could have, had I just based their descriptions on my Dad’s explanations alone. The attack on Monte Porchia was described as “suicidal” and seeing it with my own eyes, gave a clear understanding why. Something as simple as driving on Highway 6, south from Rome to Cassino, clarified the highway’s significance in the battle, as did seeing the proximity of Monte Cassino to Monte Trocchio and Monte Porchia. It really was very meaningful to be in the same places that I knew my Dad had been 73 years earlier! Strange as it may sound, it felt as though my Dad, through his story, was our guide!  

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Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your father’s story?

Private Good Luck is not just an immigrant’s story. It’s not just a soldier’s story. Nor is it just a Holocaust story. It’s all of them, and so much more. Private Good Luck is a story about immigrants and their experiences in, and contributions to America; soldiers and the sacrifices they and their families make to protect our freedoms; anti-Semitism and the complex relationship between Jew and Gentile before, during, and after the Holocaust; above all, it’s a story of hope that teaches the dignity of difference, and renews faith in our shared humanity. 

Q: What kind of feedback are you receiving on the book?

Well, Private Good Luck is a semi-finalist in the 2021 Screencraft Cinematic Book Competition. The finalist will be announced on February 17th, so that’s been exciting and encouraging feedback! Everyone else who has read it has been amazed by its authenticity and the documentation that highlights the narrative.

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Q: You’ve made a gift of your father’s documents and other personal items to the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Washington, D.C. Can you tell me more about donating the collection and what that’s meant to you?

One of the most difficult decisions was to donate all of his collection to the USHMM. It felt like I was losing my father for a second time. I had spent so much time organizing, cataloging, and handling these items (and watching him handle them and show them to friends and family) that it was really difficult. However, the museum reassured me that they will become a “Special Collection” on their website and that it was one of the top 1% of any collection they had ever received, so it made me feel that I had done my part in preserving his story, and had given voice to, and a final resting place for, my relatives who had been murdered.

Q: What made you decide to share your father’s story?

My Dad felt very strongly about being buried in a military cemetery. “Let them know that Jews served!” and he also felt that his service at Monte Porchia and Anzio was a forgotten part of the war. Especially in today’s environment, I felt that many Americans know very little about World War II and the Holocaust, anti-Semitism has reared it’s head again in a very public way, and immigrants are often looked down upon because they have a hard time fitting in with the stereotypical image of who is an American. Additionally, veterans, and the service and sacrifices they made, are often taken for granted. Many times, those who didn’t serve feel the need to say “Thank you for your service” without ever really taking the time to listen to what that service entailed. Combat veterans especially are reticent to talk about what they did, but they are grateful when the listener takes the time to at least sincerely ask about their service, listen to their stories, and to remember. On all counts, I thought that the book, when read carefully, provides an entrance point to learning why America is so special, why immigrants and how they are treated is so important (after all, it’s the most often mentioned commandment in the Bible), and how anti-Semitism is the “canary in the mine” for a dangerous political environment.    

Q: What’s on your current reading list?

I’m a big fan of Rabbi Jonathon Sacks, z”l. He’s definitely on my list, as is the Talmud, which I have committed myself to reading one page a day for the next 6 years (the Daf Yomi, which began its seven year cycle again last year).

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Q: What’s your next writing project?

I’ve finished editing my Aunt’s memoir, which she wrote and typed herself at the age of 96, and hope to release it soon. Additionally, I’m editing the thousands of letters so that they can be accessed more easily by anyone who would like to learn more about my family’s story can read first hand accounts in English. 

Q: Where can readers connect with you (website, social media, etc)?

Tisza Publishing has pages on Instagram and Facebook, and of course by email at TiszaPublishing@verizon.net.

Q: Any closing remarks?

It is critical to educate people about the horrors of World War II, and the sacrifices that people made to protect our freedom. Thank you for taking the time to read my book, and help spread my family’s story so that others can learn from our history

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Read My Review of Private Good Luck:

[Book Review] Private Good Luck by Sherwin Gluck

By Sherwin Gluck After two years of navigating red tape, four siblings found their way out of Hungary and into the United States in 1940. Shortly after arriving to freedom, the youngest brother finds himself in the army, fighting to defend his American dream. This is a heartfelt and emotional story of the Jewish experience […]

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