At an age when most kids are playing with toys, Miriam Brysk was learning how to use a pistol. The deadly tool was her eighth birthday present, and she needed it to help fight the Nazis in the untamed forests of Belarus.
Las Vegas-based author and educator Joanne D. Gilbert tells Brysk’s story in a new book called A Victory for Miriam!: The Little Jewish Girl Who Defied the Nazis (Adira Press, $23). The book is geared toward young adult audiences, but the narrative appeals to all. Gilbert co-wrote the non-fiction memoir with Brysk, now 84.
“We wanted to show that there were stories of young Jewish girls who actively fought the Nazis,” says Gilbert, who lost extended family members to the Holocaust and feels a profound connection to that era. “We felt that story had not been told.”
A November 10 book release event at Henderson’s Midbar Kodesh Temple will feature visual art by Brysk and local artist Angel Luna, along with a presentation about anti-Nazi resistance by Gilbert. Brysk, who now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will attend if her health permits.
Brysk wrote her own memoir, Amidst the Shadows of Trees (2007), for an adult audience, so A Victory for Miriam! aims to reach the next generation. “It’s designed to be particularly helpful in schools, where teachers want to teach about the Holocaust but don’t have the materials,” says Gilbert, who works closely with the Holocaust Resource Center to provide training for Clark County teachers.
The idea for A Victory for Miriam! grew out of research for Gilbert’s first book: Women of Valor: Polish Jewish Resisters to the Third Reich (2014). Brysk was featured in that first book. “The idea came to me that this needed to be expanded so that Anne Frank would not be the only story that people knew,” Gilbert says. “We hope to broaden the narrative of children in the Holocaust to not just being victims, but being active fighters against oppression and succeeding.”
The events in A Victory for Miriam! end at her eighth-grade graduation in Brooklyn, after Brysk had safely escaped to the United States and built a new life. Brysk would go on to become a professor, scientist, artist, writer, poet and lecturer. “Her spirit is indomitable,” Gilbert says. “Any one thing that would crush other people, she handles and she moves forward. She does not stop.”
An important lesson to take from this book, Gilbert says, is the need for a guiding light in troubled times. “Wherever there’s oppression and wherever there are victims, we need role models for heroism and inspiration. We also need them for hope. No matter how dark our times might be, there are heroes who will bring light to us.”
A Victory for Miriam! Book release November 10, 2-4 p.m., free. Midbar Kodesh Temple, 1940 Paseo Verde Parkway, 702-454-4848.