Shoah survivor, noted French author to visit St. Louis

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

A prominent author, activist and survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto will lecture in St. Louis later this month as part of an annual event at the Brodsky Library.

Marek Halter, author of more than 20 books, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31 about “The Jewish Odyssey: Four Millennia in One Lecture.” The title is related to his New York Times bestselling “The Jewish Odyssey,” which will be the focus of his remarks at the annual Lazaroff Lecture.

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“We were very fortunate to get such a famous author as our lecturer,” said Barbara Raznick, director of the Brodsky Library.

Neal Sokol, a local resident who helped to bring Halter to town, said it was a rare opportunity for St. Louisans to see a writer of Halter’s caliber. Other cities on his North American tour include New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and Montreal.

“This is the lone Midwestern stop on his tour,” Sokol said, adding that Halter is a much-sought-after speaker who has appeared on television outlets such as France24 and “The Charlie Rose Show.”

“When it was brought to my attention that he was available to speak about his odyssey, his understanding of the Jewish experience, I thought that was an exceptional opportunity for the Jewish community in St. Louis and the community in general to hear one of the leading figures in world Jewry speak,” Sokol said. “I think they’ll be moved and inspired by a master storyteller who has a rich and complex understanding of the Jewish experience and history.”

The Polish-born Halter who also spent time in Russia and Uzbekistan before moving to France, is more than an author. He once studied pantomime with Marcel Marceau and gained international recognition as a painter. In the late 1960s, he founded the International Committee for a Negotiated Peace Agreement in the Near East, a demonstration of an ongoing passion to peace activism. In the early 1990s, he worked with Israelis and Palestinians during negotiations.

His works include a best-selling trilogy about the women of the Bible.

Speaking via email from Paris with answers translated from French and forwarded by Sokol, Halter said he was looking forward to his visit to St. Louis, which would mark his first time in the city.

“To come to speak in St Louis, a city built by Frenchmen and whose name is that of a French king is quite amusing for a Polish Jewish writer who writes and dreams in French,” he said.

Halter said he considers himself to be a storyteller and, in that respect, part of an ancient Biblical tradition.

“While a writer writes first and foremost for themselves, a storyteller, for his part, addresses first and foremost others,” he said. “The result of both these practices may be the same, a book. The method however is different.”

Halter said he was very young while in the Warsaw Ghetto but did take certain things away from the experience.

“The memory of the first dead deeply affected me,” he said. “The fact that we were able to escape thanks to two Polish Catholics made me discover very early that man can be generous too.”

He said he later dedicated a film in remembrance of those individuals as well as others who risked their lives to help save thousands of others.

“Today they are called Righteous Among the Nations,” he said. “And I try, in every conflict around the world, to give them as examples.”

He said he believes that the Jewish experience can have lessons for the world as a whole.

“Rooted, like all peoples, in a land but also in the Book, the Jewish people, more than any other human group, fits into the history of other peoples,” he said. “One just has to recount the history of the Jewish Diaspora since the Sumerian Empire four thousand years ago until today in order to get a glimpse of the history of humanity.”

Halter said that it was difficult to quantify what he hoped his listeners and readers might take away from his works and lectures.

“Any encounter between a writer and their audience is an adventure,” he said, “an adventure for the audience and for the speaker himself.”

The Lazaroff Lecture is funded by the Morris and Ann Lazaroff Endowment and is co-sponsored by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hilton Homewood Suites Chesterfield and the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in Memory of Gloria M. Goldstein.

Annual Lazaroff Lecture

What: Brodsky Library’s Annual Lazaroff Lecture will feature author and master Yiddish storyteller Marek Halter

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31

Where: Brodsky Library, Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, 12 Millstone Campus Drive

How much: $7 but cost waived for friends of the library.

More info: A reception will follow at the conclusion of the event. Reservations are required by March 30. Call 314-442-3720 or email to [email protected] for more information.