Judge gives back past to youngest living U.S. survivor

CLEVELAND — Michael Simon, who at age 57 calls himself the youngest living U.S. survivor of the Holocaust, again owns the rights to his past, thanks to a Lorain County judge.

Three years ago, Simon gave his father's memoirs and the diary that his mother kept in the Theresienstadt concentration camp to an Oberlin College professor to translate. When he asked that these documents be returned in summer of 1998, Heidi Thomann Tewarson, a professor of German, refused. She said she had not completed translating Simon's material and wanted to publish excerpts of the translations.

In August 1998, Tewarson sued for exclusive rights to copies of the documents, their transcription and translation from the original German, and the right to publish scholarly research based on that material. Simon counter-sued to get the documents, the transcription and the translation returned to him.

In late November, Judge Lynett McGough in Lorain County Common Pleas Court ordered Tewarson to return the documents and memorabilia. She further ordered that Tewarson provide a full copy of every transcription and translation she has made by last month.

The judge also stipulated that the professor may not publish any work that includes the diaries or memoirs without Simon's permission; she is entitled, however, to any historical research she did on her own.

Tewarson, who was given one month to appeal the decision, filed a notice of her intent to appeal late last month.

Simon's documents are one-of-a-kind. They include a 1,200-page diary kept by his mother, Minni. The diary provides an almost daily record of life in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1942 and in the Theresienstadt concentration camp from 1942 to 1945. It is mostly written in a form of German shorthand, some on scraps of paper.

Among the documents are a 300-page typewritten memoir by Simon's father, Fritz, beginning with his childhood in northeastern Germany and chronicling his experiences as a volunteer soldier during World War I. Also included is correspondence between Minni Simon and her sister in New York, notes on scraps of paper that Minni and Fritz used to communicate in the camps, yellow stars Jews were forced to wear on their clothing, identity cards, Fritz Simon's medals and badges and Michael Simon's childhood medical records.

Tewarson's complaint, filed with the court in August 1998, said she used grant funds and her own funds and invested thousands of hours of her own time on the documents. She says her work is about 75 percent complete.

"It was really a wonderful victory for Michael," says his attorney, Jori Bloom Naegele. The judge, she adds, determined that there was no contract giving Tewarson a license to write and publish a book based on the documents.

She says her client, who lives in Chicago, is now in possession of all his original documents, which had been kept in escrow in a safe-deposit box to which the two attorneys had keys.

Naegele says the judge determined that there was no contract giving Tewarson a license to write and publish a book based on the documents. She believes Simon would like to one day see the documents published. However, he would like to know what is in them first, and would like to participate in the process, something Tewarson refused to do.

Tewarson had shared with him 11 entries from December 1943 and January 1944, which described his first birthday. That was all of her work that he had seen, says his attorney.

"This is his whole family history," Naegele says. "He's very anxious to read what's there." Simon now has a copyright on all the documents.

Simon's mother was 41 years old and four months pregnant when she entered Theresienstadt. Some 207 children were born in the camp; only five, including Michael, survived. Simon and his parents arrived at Ellis Island in June 1947, and came to the Cleveland area in 1974. Minni Simon died in 1990; Fritz Simon died in 1982.

Simon has looked into donating his documents to a museum, according to Naegele. Both the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust have expressed interest in them.