07 January 2007

Writing memoirs to keep history alive

In San Francisco and elsewhere, writers are recording their memoirs as a legacy for future generations.

Ken Colvin, 82, made his living in the field of agricultural marketing. But his life was forever changed when, as a 19-year-old Army surgical technician, he helped liberate Nazi death camps in 1945. It was an experience so searing it defined him ever after as an American and as a Jew.

Years later, with the birth of each of his seven grandchildren, the San Francisco native would write a long personal essay, a kind of letter of introduction. But he found he had even more to tell, and so in 1989 he set down his memoirs, which he titled “Cause and Effect.”

Helen Lewison, 82, a San Francisco housewife turned author, has been busy since she wrote her first memoir following her husband's 1992 death. Her latest, "The Butterfly Chronicles," includes her arrival in the Bay Area at age 31. “I went to a B’nai Brith dance in Oakland,” she recalls, “met Mel and married him 11 days later.”

Jewish community activist and real estate magnate William J. Lowenberg is an 80-year-old Auschwitz survivor who wrote a self-published memoir just for his family. His daughter convinced him to put his life story into book form, and he then worked with Susan Rothenberg, a social worker and editor of five memoirs.

"Susan and I met every Wednesday afternoon for a few hours,” he recalls. “She put a mike on my tie, and I talked and talked. Then she would write up what we discussed and send me a copy from the previous week. It wasn’t painful to talk about it. I look at it as an obligation. The world has to know.”

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