Interview with Belle Ami: Featuring her book, The Last Daughter
Author Interview with Belle Ami
The Last Daughter:
Based on a True Story of One Girl’s Courage in the Face of Evil
Hello, Belle Ami. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to talk about The Last Daughter. After reading the book, I was left with a sense of awe and wonder. The story is based on your mother’s real-life experience as a young girl surviving the holocaust. This harrowing story full of struggle, sadness, and strength brought many questions to mind, and today, I wanted to ask you some of them.
Minette: At what age do you remember your mother talking about her past and telling you about the history/genocide she survived? At what age did you feel compelled to write this story, and how long did it take you to write it?
Belle Ami: I have no recollection of exactly when it began, but it must have occurred to me that I had very few relatives on my mother’s side of the family (two cousins, Nadja & Meyer), and being a curious child, I must have bombarded my mother with questions. At 9-10 years old, I remember getting in bed with my mother on a weekend morning and prodding her with a million questions ranging from: Why didn’t your family leave? Describe your family to me. What was your sister like? What was your brother like? Do you know what happened to them? I also remember by the end of each session, my mom and I were both crying our eyes out. There was no psychiatric help available to Holocaust survivors. They had to deal with their scars without help. In my mom’s case, I think I became her shrink. She could confess everything to me, which was catharsis and healing to her psyche.
For me, this grew into a passion and fascination with stories, and it also awoke a lifelong curiosity about other people’s stories and family history.
Minette: There was a lot of bad luck that turned out to be life-saving luck for your mother, Dina. How did her experiences affect her perspective after she immigrated to the United States? How did that attitude shape your ideas about life’s ups and downs?
Belle Ami: She knew her survival was miraculous, and like most survivors, she was desperate to make up for time and build a family. Maybe because she is one of the youngest survivors, or perhaps because it is her nature, but Dina has always been a positive attitude person. Many survivors I have met are depressed and suffered after the war; many committed suicide, even after they survived. They couldn’t live with the losses or the horrors they’d witnessed. Dina always saw the glass as half full.
Minette: You mentioned to me that Dina only had two photographs that survived the war. Can you tell us about the photos and how she managed to keep them or find them again?
Belle Ami: The photo engagement photo of Dina’s parents and her father’s younger sister Natalia and her husband Alexander was mailed to her grandfather’s brother, who emigrated to the U.S., and she got a copy of it from his daughter, her cousin Pauline. The other photo of her sister sitting with the Jabotinsky youth group was rescued from her home in the ghetto the night of the deportation of her family. A beau of her sister ran into the house and rescued it, and he carried it with him for the duration of the war. A miracle! (I’ve attached the photos for you to see).
Minette: In the book, you mention that your mother actually met Anne and Margot Frank. While Anne and her family were physically trapped inside, Dina was shuffled around like a deck of cards, somehow avoiding the worst scenario. How did this information affect you as a daughter of a survivor and as an author? Did Anne’s story encourage you to write about your mother’s experience?
Belle Ami: Anne was a brilliant diarist, but as we all know, her story ends in the annex when they are reported to the Gestapo. In a way, my telling of what it was like at Bergen Belsen gives you a picture of what Anne and Margot’s last days were like. That my mother realized after the war and after reading the diary and seeing photos of the sisters, she remembered them stepping over them and hearing them speak to each other in Dutch.
Minette: On a lighter note, your mother falls in love while working at the sorting job and reunites with her beau after the war. Instead of a young marriage, Dina chooses education and immigration to the United States. Did she ever meet her first love again, or did they share correspondences? And on a romantic note, how did your mother meet your father once she settled in the US?
Belle Ami: My mother joined my future husband and me on a trip to Poland and Israel. On that trip, she reunited with Natek. They had a beautiful, tearful, happy reunion. He had married and had two children. You could feel the warmth emanating from each of them for the other. What they shared could never be forgotten. It was a beautiful moment.
My mother met my father at a dance in Los Angeles. He was from Vienna, and his family saved his life by sending him on the Kindertransport to England, where he remained until he immigrated to the U.S. and enlisted in the army on his eighteenth birthday. Another story.
Minette: In the politically correct atmosphere we live in today, striving for equality for everyone, how does a survivor or a survivor’s daughter register their feelings about the past genocide and balance them with the reality of German society today?
Belle Ami: Forgiveness.
Minette: Have you or your mother gone back to Poland, Germany, or other parts of Europe, and if so, did you tour any of the concentration camps?
Belle Ami: Yes, believe it or not, my mother thinks Germany is the most beautiful European country. When she was in the displaced-persons camp in Stuttgart, she took the opportunity to travel all over Germany. I went with my mother to Poland, and we traveled to Radom and knocked on the door of her family’s house. It had been subdivided into two apartments. My mother brought socks to give the people who lived there if they let us in to take a quick peek at the place. Reluctantly, they let us, but my mother said it was unrecognizable. We went to Treblinka. What is left is just a field with railroad tracks surrounded by trees. In the center of the field are hundreds of stone pillars in every shape and size, with the names of every town, city, or place once inhabited by Jews before the war. It took us a while, but we found Radom. I took a picture of my mother with her head pressed against the stone. She never got to say goodbye, and she took this moment to pray, speak, and say goodbye to her loved ones. We also went to Auschwitz and were given a private tour by the curator. My mother gave him her father’s name, and lo and behold, two weeks after we came home, a picture of her father in his pashak (prison garb) arrived. I’ve enclosed a copy of the pic. Because he was one of the earliest to be deported to Auschwitz, his arrival was listed under his name. Later, those that perished would only be given numbers and were not photographed. The document says Joel Frydman disappeared two weeks after his arrival, which means he died. We hope his heart gave out, and he wasn’t sent to the gas chamber.
Minette: I don’t think I would have had the physical strength or mental fortitude that Dina had to survive so much. What has your mother shared with you about where she draws her courage. Where do you draw your strength from?
Belle Ami: Judaism teaches that there is nothing more precious than life. I draw strength from knowing good people in the world balance out the evil ones. My mother believes she will be reunited with her family one day. She also lives with the belief that she will have an opportunity to give God a piece of her mind. LOL
Minette: I have read many of your novels, and I am amazed at your prolific talents. You write in many genres and have a deep well of stories to add to your resume. Who is your favorite author, and which book inspired you to become a writer?
Belle Ami: I couldn’t begin to say. I have so many authors that I love and genres that I read. I love your books. I am deeply bound to classic literature and read a great deal of it, which I believe informs my writing. I firmly believe that reading great authors and timeless stories will make you a better author. Thank you, Minette, for your lovely compliment.
Minette: Apart from this amazing, true story detailing your mother’s real-life survival of the holocaust, which Belle Ami novel is your favorite? What is coming out next, and where will you go from there?
Belle Ami: That I can answer. I’m finishing a domestic thriller about child abuse. I’m also finishing the third book in my new Historical Romance/time-travel Next in Time series, which includes London Time (published), Paris Time (in edit), and Tuscan Time (nearly done). I also have another WWII Holocaust book planned, based on a true story of a female hero! I’m plotting and preparing to pitch a six-book series to my historical romance publisher, Dragonblade, and I’m shopping a WWII/Renaissance dual timeline novel with agents and publishers. So, my future is writing is plotted out. I have a few other books in mind, but all I need is the time!
A few questions from my book club ladies: Did “Russian Roulette” originate with the Nazis?
Belle Ami: Here is a link, https://www.rbth.com/history/332732-history-russian-roulette-game-origins, to the origins of Russian roulette, which was first mentioned and gained fame just after the WWI in Tsarist Russia. It was popularized in a novel ‘The Hero of Our Time’ by the Russian author Mikhail Lermontov. He described a bet between two officers in the Tsar’s army who just had to discover if fate was predetermined or ruled by people.
Book Club: How can we make sure that the world doesn’t forget that this happened and more importantly, how can we try to keep it from happening again?
Belle Ami: Holocaust survivors are dying daily, and soon there won’t be any left to testify to the truth of genocide. The most important way to keep this from ever happening again, is to keep the stories alive and teach the Holocaust to our children in their curriculums. Unfortunately, the Holocaust is not taught in depth to our children.
Pew Study: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2020/01/22/what-americans-know-about-the-holocaust/
Book Club: Did her mother feel that she made the right decision in choosing America and what are the differences she sees today versus back then.
My mother loves the USA and is grateful for her life here. Like many immigrants having survived totalitarianism and war, she understands the American dream and the gifts of freedom. She has never regretted her decision to become an American citizen.
Book Club: Does she think what happened back then could ever happen again, and does she see similarities in our country today?
When she sees the rise of anti-Semitism in this country and around the world she is very upset. She prays it won’t happen again, but understands that hatred grows insidiously and if not eradicated immediately it can take root. We are living in a dangerous time.
- Engagement photo
- Sister’s Jabotinsky Club
Before you go, if you haven’t read The Last Daughter here is my review from last year:
Award winning author, Belle Ami, crafts a true story of courage, loss and endurance woven through the devastating strands of time and history. The harrowing tale of her mother’s real past starts from the tender age of ten.
The Last Daughter begins just before Hitler’s troops invade Poland. The author describes the young life of her mother, Dinale (Dina) through six years of torture, heartbreak, and courage.
Innocence, love, laughter, and curiosity are a great part of the Frydman family before the invasion. The ongoing discussions and concerns about growing anti-Semitism before the war build a sense of impending doom. The thoughts and actions of the characters as they are moved along like cattle portray an accurate depiction of the human psyche and lends credit to the author’s depiction of the travesty. Belle drives home how quickly things can be swept away and rights lost where happiness and freedom were once taken for granted.
Young, fragile, suddenly orphaned and living at the factory where she works, Dina makes her way through Nazi Poland and claws her way to a destiny she could never have fathomed. This compelling and poignant story, even in its tragic moments, is remarkable and heart lifting. It is amazing this Nazi survivor could endure so much at such a tender age.
Luck, fait, the destiny to survive, Dina beats all odds and lives to tell the history of her ancestors and the atrocities of WWII. Today, she still stands in the face of evil, and her story will hopefully keep the vigilance of freedom alive. Shock, horror and devastation of a true account of one of the youngest holocaust survivors will keep you rapt in the story, but courage, determination and perseverance will encourage you to read until the very end. Belle’s portrayal of her mother’s history is a wonderful acknowledgement and gift to her mother and other survivors so that we can never forget. Don’t miss this captivating story, The Last Daughter.
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