Ralph Webster, Author, A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other
A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other is particularly relevant in light of the “travel ban” controversy in the U.S. This book chronicles one family’s Holocaust journey. Refugees from a different era, it is a compelling story of their search for safety and security. Should you wish to arrange for Ralph to participate in your book club, either in person or via Skype, feel free to write him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. He likes to connect with readers throughout the world.
Why did you write A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other?
During the fall of 2015 my wife and I spent a number of weeks travelling throughout Europe. This was a pleasure trip – lots of hiking and biking. It so happened that this was same time the international news was flooded with images of the refugee crisis.
Thousands of refugees were fleeing their homes – primarily from Syria. They were searching for safety, security, employment and opportunity. The EU countries were struggling with border issues. We viewed this firsthand. We saw police remove people from trains. The interactions were civil. We saw no disturbance. We never felt danger. What we watched was a procession of people trying to find a new life. We saw mothers, fathers, children, and groups of young men – all right before our eyes.
My father was a refugee – a refugee from a different era. His family was prosperous one day. They were paupers the next. He fled Germany at the beginning of World War II. Baptized as Lutherans their ancestry was Jewish. And, in Nazi Germany, they had the wrong blood. This was about race – not only religion. It was ethnic cleansing. Not everyone could leave. Family members left behind perished during the Holocaust. These were unimaginable times.
“I thought those were others. Soon, I was to learn that they were us.”
I have great compassion for those forced to leave their homelands. I wonder why this terrible history keeps repeating.
History also repeats the age old dilemma of where the survivors should go? Which nations are willing to open their doors? Where will they be welcomed and safe? Then or now, this remains a complicated question with no simple answers. Most of us would agree that a nation’s first responsibility is to their own. Nations must care and protect their own populations. There are hard choices. And, sometimes, first reactions are not the best responses.
Yes, it was another time. But, for those affected, I imagine the feelings of helplessness and loss are much the same. Just imagine. During World War II and the Holocaust more than fifty million people lost their lives. Six million Jews were murdered. Lives everywhere were shattered and disrupted. Those left alive were forced to cope and persevere.
“I can tell you that events were incremental, that the unbelievable became the believable and, ultimately, the normal.”
Using my father’s voice to narrate the story, I have tried to convey that sense of helplessness – what it is like to be hated – what it is like to have to run for your life – what it is like to leave the country where your family has always lived – what it is like to leave family behind – what it is like to be totally disconnected and not know who has survived and who has not – what it is like to try to survive in a place with a different language and culture. I wanted to convey that sense of determination, of going forward with one’s life, and of keeping one’s perspective and outlook.
And, I have also tried to present the struggle that countries face as they consider accepting refugees. Are there enough jobs? Could some be the enemy? Sometimes difficult times result in difficult answers. The world is not always a perfect place.
I have no desire to compare the suffering of one tragic period with another. Whether then or now, the entire world suffers when any group suffers. Tragedy for one is tragedy for all. Regardless of when, brutal acts of hatred and violence against others never make any moral sense. They can never be tolerated. We must always be aware.
“Nothing about these times makes any sense. Nothing. Putting it to words only makes it sound too simple.”
I believe that somehow, in today’s era of terror, we too often forget that the refugees of the world are not the enemy. They are the victims. They are the innocent. They are the survivors and many have endured unimaginable loss. They are the bystanders. They are people like you and me – and too many are leaving with only the clothes on their backs – and often, with their loved ones left behind.
Although my father’s journey took place 75 years ago, the parallels with today’s world are clear. I wrote this book so I could shine a light on my father’s journey – to show the reader the world through my father’s eyes. His was a journey of survival and grim determination, and a reminder that we must always remain vigilant to the realities of our world – a lesson that we must endure.
I hope that despite the atrocities of the Holocaust, A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other is really about survival, expectation, acceptance, and perseverance. It is the timeless story about going forward, one step at a time. It is about compassion for one another. Sometimes, no matter what, the reality is that fate will take you to where you are going.
“Life does find a way to create a balance somewhere between smiles and tears.”
I can’t recite the chronology or elaborate on the facts. I can’t explain the reasons or defend how we lived our lives. What I can tell you is how the events of 1933 sowed the seeds that fundamentally changed our future, that there was little hand-wringing or emotion, that circumstances were beyond control, that there was no recourse or appeal. I can tell you that events were incremental, that the unbelievable became the believable and, ultimately, the normal.”