An Interview with Marvin Raab

Marvin Raab with his mother, Esther Terner Raab. Picture courtesy of Marvin Raab.

Marvin Raab is Esther Terner Raab’s younger son and Abe Raab’s brother.

When did you first hear about your mother’s Holocaust story?

When I was growing up, I never asked my mother about her experiences during World War II. I always thought it would bring up bad memories for her. Of course, I would hear bits and pieces when she was telling a story to one of her friends. Then, in 1988, I took my young children and my parents to Poland, and there she told us the whole story. We went to her home town of Chelm and to Sobibor. We visited the spot where the barn she hid in after the escape once stood. For the first time, I really got a sense of the horrific things my mother went through. That trip to Poland with my parents tied together all those bits and pieces I had heard before

How are you involved in Holocaust education? 

As a Commissioner on the New Jersey State Holocaust Commission since 2001, I have visited many universities and public schools where I’ve talked about the Holocaust and, in particular, have told my mother’s stories. My wife and I donated a Holocaust Library at Abrams Hebrew Academy where our children attended school. I have also worked with the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, which teaches teenagers about the atrocities of the Holocaust. And I’m a board member of the Goodwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center housed at the Cherry Hill Jewish Community Center. After the first performance of my mother’s play Dear Esther at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., I brought the play to Ryder College near Trenton. I’ve also visited other colleges to promote the play, and many of them have produced it. Over the years, tens of thousands of public school children have seen Dear Esther. I have also spoken to schools and organizations about my mother’s life, once she was no longer able to do so herself. Dear Esther makes it easier for me to tell her story because I’ve seen the play so many times.

Why is Dear Esther an important Holocaust education tool?

It is valuable because what my mother felt and what she had to deal with makes the Holocaust real to children. They can relate to her loss and pain during the Holocaust. Otherwise, when they hear that six million died, there are no faces or personal stories to make it real. Just cold facts.

Are you surprised at the impact the play has had on school children? What in the play makes them respond so deeply?

I’m amazed to see how children can relate to the stories. I watch them come into a theater to see the play and, within a short time, they are absorbed into what is happening. You usually can’t hear a sound in the audience as the play goes on. Just by reading the letters that were sent to my mom, it is obvious that the play has changed the lives of so many children.

How do you think your mother would react to the book Children’s Letters to a Holocaust Survivor: Dear Esther?

Esther Terner Raab standing in front of a window displaying skull fragments and ashes of those who perished in Sobibor death camp at Sobibor, Poland. Picture courtesy of Abe Raab.

I think my mother would be very proud. Her goal was to tell the world what happened in Sobibor. I do not think she did this for personal glory. She relived Sobibor for all the Jews whom the Nazis killed there. She did it so that they would not die in vain.

Why is your mother a hero?

She is a hero to me because she was a great mom. But she also impacted the lives of so many other young people. To this day people come up to me and say:  “Your mom was a hero. She touched the lives of thousands.”  People have not forgotten her.

About Richard Rashke
RICHARD RASHKE is a lecturer and author of non-fiction books including RICHARD RASHKE is a lecturer and author of non-fiction books including THE WHISTLEBLOWER'S DILEMMA: SNOWDEN, SILKWOOD AND THEIR QUEST FOR THE TRUTH, ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR, THE KILLING OF KAREN SILKWOOD, and USEFUL ENEMIES: JOHN DEMJANJUK AND AMERICA'S OPEN-DOOR POLICY FOR NAZI WAR CRIMINALS. His works have been translated into eleven languages and have been the subject of movies for screen and television. He is also an alto sax player and composer. He lives in Washington, D.C. His latest book, CHILDREN'S LETTERS TO A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR: DEAR ESTHER will be released on April 19. 2016.
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