Around the Island

Shelter Island Library presents: Courage in the face of evil

Bearing witness to the awesome display of skill, endurance and instinct that drives achievement at the highest levels of sport is exhilarating.

It’s why we have ESPN and the Olympics and nightly highlight videos from across the globe. Now imagine an athlete cast down to the very edge of existence, robbed of liberty, sustenance, and subjected to unrelenting cruelty devised to crush the human spirit. In this extreme circumstance, a rare form of heroism emerges with the potential to inspire in a most profound way.

Jeffrey Sussman’s book, “Holocaust Fighters: Boxers, Resisters, and Avengers,” paints the portraits of such heroes who faced the threat of extermination by the Nazis and resisted by any means possible — whether through boxing, exposing the reality of the death camps, or conducting armed attacks and deadly acts of vengeance. On Nov. 12, please join the author at 7 p.m. on Zoom, in his generous third engagement with the Friday Night Dialogues series sponsored by the Shelter Island Public Library, for a discussion of his compelling new work.

A resident of New York City and East Hampton, Mr. Sussman is the author of 15 nonfiction books. Past titles include “Max Baer and Barney Ross: Jewish Heroes of Boxing;” “Rocky Graziano: Fists, Fame and Fortune;” “Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science;” and “Big Apple Gangsters: The Rise and Decline of the Mob in New York.”

When asked what brought him to wrestle with this recent and darker material, the author cited his research on earlier projects, not a personal family Holocaust history. “My father was a navigator on a B24 bomber that flew over Berlin,” he explained, “It was interviewing the living sons of two of the boxers who survived the camps that opened a door for me.”

“These are the stories of victims who fought back,” Mr. Sussman added. “The central impossibility of their position — forced to fight to stay alive, knowing full well their opponents would likely die as a result — the burden of such guilt might have driven many to despair, but these found a way to prevail.”

On Friday night, the author also plans to share feats of bravery by resisters who helped turn the tide of the war, as well as postwar actions by survivors, taken individually and collectively, to exact retribution from their Nazi persecutors.

Thorin R. Tritter, Museum and Programming Director of the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, described the book as “a fresh perspective into the Nazi thirst for power and the fighters who battled for victory. Readers will be swept up by Sussman’s provocative insights.” Program participants can look forward to connecting with an extraordinary kind of resilience, the kind that arises in the bleakest moments and may serve as a buoy for future trials. “Many contemporary Jews don’t much care for hearing about the Holocaust because it somehow signals defeat,” Mr. Sussman noted, “But these stories empower.”

Please register for the Friday Night Dialogues program with Jeffrey Sussman at least 30 minutes ahead of time by visiting the Events calendar on the library’s website at silibrary.org. For further information or assistance, contact Jocelyn Ozolins via email at [email protected] or by phone at 631-749-0042. All library programs are free to the public; however, donations are gratefully accepted.

Next Up: Caitlin Petre: “All the News That’s Fit to Click,” a behind-the-scenes look at data about which stories attract the most “clicks, likes, and shares” — and how such analytics are transforming journalism.