Summer 1939. Mother with me (left) and John (right) in Le Corubert. We were staying with the Huchon family (Normandy).

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A hopeful, courageous man reflects on his life 
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 eulogy:  
    "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 the more.  
    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 Washington University.  
    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 come about?  
    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.  

Mr. Peterson 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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      © Oscar Mann, 2006