1/17/14 — THE ACCIDENTAL AUTHOR
Erika Rybeck lives at Riderwood Retirement Community in Silver Spring, Maryland. She intended to put together an album of her life for herself, family and friends. She wrote a narrative to accompany the many photos she had acquired from her childhood and school years.
Many of these ancient photos were in poor condition but a neighbor scanned and retouched them. Erika’s husband Walt, a former journalist, inserted the photos into the narrative, printed out the story on his computer and put the whole into a black, 3-ring binder notebook which they then shared with family and friends.
All of this would perhaps be an ordinary story except that Erika was born in Austria before World War II into a family with a long Jewish heritage. Her father, a chemical engineer and manager of a sugar factory in Hohenau, a small Austrian village, was forced out of his job when the Nazi regime took over Austria. They left Hohenau without a single piece of luggage. No one saw them off at the train station. They took refuge in Erika’s grandmother’s apartment in Vienna. A year later, Erika’s parents in desperation put their 10-year-old daughter Erika on a Kindertransport train to Scotland.
In Scotland, Erika went to a convent boarding school in Aberdeen. For a while she received loving letters from her parents, who disguised their peril in touching and seemingly lighthearted questions about how Erika was doing. Then the letters ceased.
Erika grew up in the convent, kept in a “conspiracy of silence” about the war and the awful fate of her parents. She recalls that she and her equally innocent classmates would hope for night-time air raids because that was when, huddled in a shelter, the nuns would read them the most exciting stories. At age 20 she came to America to join an aunt and uncle who had escaped. Erika embarked on years of searching, eventually learning what really happened during her earlier years.
As the 3-ring binder made the rounds, more and more voices insisted to Erika, “You must publish this story.” Walt and Erika called my publishing company, Summit Crossroads Press, and asked me to help them do so. Much to Erika’s surprise—almost shock—her private project suddenly became a very public piece of work.
Preparing this book for publication was complicated by the large number of photos, some in color. In the traditional offset printing method, the photos would have required much additional work and those in color (having to be printed separately) would have greatly driven up the expense. The Rybecks would also have had to place an initial order of 500 or more books, further driving up costs and presenting storage problems.
However, the job was done quickly and the book produced by the print-on-demand (POD) process. Using POD, the number of photos and whether they were in color or black-and-white made no difference in the cost, and books are simply ordered as needed.
The book is entitled On My Own: Decoding the Conspiracy of Silence by Erika Schulhof Rybeck. It is available on Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble, and it’s doing quite well.
On My Own by Erika Rybeck tells of her three lives, from childhood in pre-Nazi Austria to a Kindertransport escape to Scotland and to adulthood in America.