Featured Story

Shelter Island Library Friday Night Dialogue: Remembering a mother, and a survivor

In November of 1942, Erland Zygmuntowicz’s mother, Itka, was separated from her mother and two younger siblings at Auschwitz, the concentration camp operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.

She never saw them again.

Erland, who lives on Shelter Island, and taught history at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn for 30 years, will describe the difficult, and sometimes heart-breaking process of telling his mother’s story by publishing a memoir in her words called “Remember, My Child.” 

He will speak at the Shelter Island Public Library on Friday, May 24 at 7 p.m., part of the Library’s Friday Night Dialogue Series.

Itka Frajman Zygmuntowicz was a survivor. After losing most of her family in her teens, she was liberated from the death camp, made her way to Sweden, married, had three children, and moved to the United States in 1954.

“The book is my mother’s long-form memoir,” Erland said. Its publication is due to the determination of Erland and his brothers, and a Holocaust scholar named Jennifer Goss.

In the early 1960s, Itka Zygmuntowicz began to write about her experiences. She was determined to tell exactly what she experienced and saw, no more or less, and over the years, she reached out to various academics and writers for help, but could never find a way to tell her experience.

For her 80th birthday, the family created an archive of her letters and photos that proved to be helpful in the creation of the book and led to the discovery of a photo of her as a small girl, sent by her elementary school teacher who went to Palestine after the war.

By that time, Erland’s mother had asked him to help her realize her dream. With contributions from Goss, his brothers Jerry and Samuel, friends Warren Green and Eric Weissberg, and his wife Anne, they produced a manuscript and assembled photographs that became “Remember My Child.”

On her 90th birthday, Erland and his brothers put the book in her hands. She died in 2019 at 94. 

In Auschwitz, Itka Zygmuntowicz’s mother left her with words of redemption and resilience, “Remember, my child, no matter what they do, don’t let them make you hateful and bitter, don’t let them destroy you.”  For Erland, the book expresses the humaneness and spiritual resilience of his mother, “gifts that somehow helped her to survive.” 

You can register for the talk at silibrary.org