My Father’s Secret War

From July ’07 Spotlight: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lucinda Franks came to the Printers Row Book Fair in June to read from her latest book My Father’s Secret War. After years of estrangement from a difficult and taciturn man, “Cindy” discovered evidence that her father had been an espionage officer during WWII. She assembled as many facts as possible from friends and military records before questioning him directly. Only then did she learn that her father had been one of the first Americans to enter a German Concentration Camp. “He had to make a report. He had to go around, look at every single thing, write down every detail,” Cindy told me. “As a small town boy who had Jewish friends that were his best friends, the experience haunted him for the rest of his life… When we would discuss Israel he would get very quiet and he would say, ‘You will never ever understand, Cindy, what happened to the Jewish people.’ Every time there was an Israeli victory, for example, the Six-Day War, he would speak very passionately about Israel and Israel’s right to exist.”

For all we’ve learned about the Holocaust since 1945, Cindy still finds people who are shocked by the details. “I was talking to an audience in San Francisco, a very intelligent audience, and I played part of the testimony my father gave about what he had seen. They all gasped when he was talking about what he saw, and I thought: ‘What are they gasping about?’ So even now, I don’t how much is in the consciousness of the American people.”

Although she admits she wrote her book primarily for herself (“Greedy, relentless; I felt like I should’ve left him alone and yet I couldn’t.”), she also realizes she’s now made a permanent contribution to future generations. She recalled one talk she gave: “My talk was about the Holocaust and what my father had seen, and when I got back to my seat, my son Josh took my hand. He was a teenager then, he took my hand and he was crying.” And her father? ”I think he’s up there smacking his head saying ‘Oh Cindy!’ but he has a small smile on his face.”

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