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by William H. Peterson, Special to The Washington Times
Early in his lovely memoir, Oscar Mann says, "Hope never dies." Dr.
Mann's book consists of the recollections of a French-born Jewish
author, age 71. His guideline of hope seems to have been prophetic
and may have well been the driving force for perserverance in a life
of pains and triumphs, advances and setbacks.
This book will grab the reader's interest.
As Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute says in a blurb
on the back cover, this book is more than a memoir. It's an "epic,"
adding: "Oscar Mann had every reason to be bitter and cynical; he
chose, instead, hope, love, and the service of others."
Certainly the author's life was endangered
by living under the Nazis in both Paris and Occupied France during
World War II. Indeed, as he learned later, his father Aaron was "murdered"
(his apt word) in the Holocaust by the Nazis at the infamous Auschwitz
concentration camp in 1942.
His remarkable and determined widowed mother
Helen carried on to save and raise her two children, Oscar, the author,
and his younger brother, John. Both have become distinguished MD's,
with John at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore,
and Oscar, clinical professor emeritus of Medicine at Georgetown University
School of Medicine.
The author credits his mother for masterminding
and managing their escape from the Nazis and later getting off her
two children to America for a new life. As Oscar said in a graveside
"A woman of valor, Mother assured our survival.
She gave us roots and stability in the difficult and dangerous days
of the war. To John, age 16, and to me, age 18, she gave us wings
to leave the nest. She would not hold us back. Tough-minded and selfless,
she made the decision and without reservation."
It was their mother who had sewn on the Nazi-required
six-pointed yellow star on their outer garments to signify their Jewish
status which subjected them to staring and hazing while walking the
Parisian streets and attending school.
In school, however, incidents were few, thanks
to the school principal, a decorated World War I veteran. The principal
told every class that harassing the Jewish students would clash with
"the ideals of France" and that he would tolerate no such treatment.
So young students Oscar and John got to study their three R's all
But soon their mother sensed the Nazis were
tightening their noose through notorious roundups and arrest of Jews
for deportation to the concentration camps. She decided that the three
of them, with the help of the French underground and forged papers,
would make a run for Free (unoccupied) France in the south, mostly
by train, to seek asylum with Uncle Maurice Bieguin living in the
then free southern town of Saint Antonin.
But in November 1942 the Germans took over
the 'Zone Libre,' occupying all of France. The Manns were
bound to be captured, their mother feared. This time she had the help
of the mayor of Saint Antonin, Dr. Paul Benet, who was Uncle Maurice's
physician and an influence on Oscar's choice of a career in medicine.
Dr. Benet was a member of the French underground, and helped spirit
the three Manns off to a remote farm in the region.
But maybe not remote enough. Once a German
patrol came through the farm, without warning. A young German officer
lifted brother John into the air and said: "I have a boy like you
back in Germany." Mother Helen who was nearby was frozen in fear,
but just smiled. Writes the author: "The episode was brief and without
consequence other than to scare us out of our wits."
In the 1950s, Oscar and John, with the aid
of sponsoring American cousins, uncles and aunts mostly in the Washington,
DC area, became American citizens. Oscar did a two-year tour of duty
in the U.S. Army and under the GI Bill earned premed credits at George
The youthful dreams of Oscar and John as career
MD's got a jump start when Gerald Rozansky, a son of a sponsoring
uncle and a student in Georgetown University's medical school, shrewdly
interested the regent of the med school in their desires to be doctors.
The regent was a Jesuit, Fr. Thomas J. O'Donnell,
and he arranged to meet Oscar and John, neither of whom had taken
the medical aptitude test nor had formally applied to the medical
school. As Oscar tells of the small miracle that happened at the meeting
in June 1957:
"Father O'Donnell reviewed our story, transcripts,
and degrees. He seemed most impressed that John and I had taken four
years of Latin. For some reason, he dwelled on this aspect of our
background and then left the room with all our credentials. Half an
hour later, he returned with a big smile and told us: 'You are both
in. You have been accepted ... You will receive official letters
of acceptance within a week.'"
And so they did, a moment of pure joy for
these two young remarkable doctors-to-be.
Forty-two years later, on July 9, 1999, just
before his 65th birthday, the author suffered a stroke. He was stricken
with weakness on his left side. His considerable mental faculties
were spared But he was too weak to get about. So how did the book
Several friends recommended that he write
the story of his extraordinary life. The book has its fun side. Oscar
describes wooing and winning his wife-to-be Amy Schwartz. On dates
he found her bright, attractive, congenial, well-spoken and a good
listener. At her door one night they kissed passionately, with Amy
saying, "Please give me a ring soon." She meant she wanted a telephone
call. But Oscar, not yet on to every American turn of phrase, took
her statement to be a call for an engagement ring. They soon were
off to a friend's pawn shop for a diamond ring.
I recall an English proverb that says, he
who lives on hope will die fasting. Still, hope is nonetheless vital
and necessary to a full life: Proof of that can be found in Oscar
Mann's A Journey of Hope.
is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and the 2005 Schlarbaum
Award winner for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty, given
by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
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