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Author will tell a survivor's story

Author Yefim Milshteyn and his interpreter Susi Yermishkin will present at 6:30 p.m. April 3 at the Robert Trail Library.

Yefim Milshteyn has a sweet smile and when he laughs his whole face lights up. While he doesn't speak much English, his expressions and hand gestures give context to the stories he tells. And Milshteyn has incredible stories to tell.

Milshteyn is a survivor of Nazi and Soviet genocides. As a teenager and young man during the 1940s Milshteyn experienced the hell of the Nazi regime and then the Soviets. His family was murdered and he personally buried some of his closest friends.

According to the Amazon description of his memoir, Journey Through Hell, at the age of 13, he was one of five or six who escaped the Berdichev ghetto massacre. He managed to survive two Nazi death camps, German slavery and a Soviet concentration camp -- the Stalin regime's reward for not being killed by fascists.

Sometimes by cunning and other times by luck, Milshteyn survived atrocities that many others didn't. Though he carries the memories of those experiences with him, he went onto marry and have children.

"You can't think about it all the time," said Milshteyn when asked how he handles the memories.

For a long time, Milshteyn didn't talk his experiences, even with those closest to him. It wasn't until 1989 he would finally share his story with his wife and children.

When he did, Milshteyn said it was difficult to do. Emotions still overcome him when he talks about his parents and other family members who perished in the Holocaust.

Milshteyn's father had predicted he would be the only one to survive and commanded his son to tell the world about what had happened. That commandment led him to write his memoir.

It wasn't an easy task. By the time he got started, Milshteyn hadn't written or done much reading in a long time and it was difficult to put words on paper. His first attempt was riddled with mistakes, but his wife and his friend Jacob Mankovich encouraged him to keep trying, saying the mistakes could be fixed. Over time the words came and Journey Through Hell was published.

Milshteyn wrote the book in Russian. His interpreter, Susi Yermishkin, translated the book into English. She also translates for him at speaking engagements.

Milshteyn wrote Journey Through Hell to share his experiences with whoever might read it. He's not interested in making money; the book costs $4.99 on Amazon and he encourages people to share it with others at no cost. His goal is to teach people about the atrocities that were committed.

Along with the book, Milshteyn makes it point to speak with groups when the opportunity comes up. He started speaking to groups in 2007. His first presentation was to fourth graders at Diamond Path Elementary School, where Yermishkin works.

"As long as my legs are moving and head is working I will continue," said Milshteyn of speaking to groups. "People must know what the Holocaust is, especially children."

Milshteyn and Yermishkin will speak about the book and his experiences at a Meet the Author event at 6:30 p.m. April 3 at the Robert Trail Library. The Rosemount Area Arts Council and the library have partnered to sponsor the event.

At the end of the presentation Milshteyn will answer questions from the audience. He will have copies of his book available at the Steeple Center

While the memories of torture and murder are still with him, Milshteyn has a good outlook on life. At 84, he exercises daily and keeps himself busy.

Despite everything, Milshteyn still has a sweet smile and a laugh that lights up his whole face.

Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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