Survivor’s Holocaust stories published posthumously

Frances Fabri wrote stories as therapy, a way to preserve and heal from her experience in Auschwitz. But the stories and their numerous revisions languished in boxes and filing cabinets.

That is, until she died in January 2006, and her friends inherited the disorganized literary capsule.

This month, they finished what she started by publishing her stories in a collection entitled “Crickets Would Sing.”

“I think she wrote because she had to. These events burned inside of her,” said friend Matt McKay, a psychologist who lives in Berkeley.

“She intended to publish them, but she was a perfectionist and everything had to be so polished,” he added. “I think she probably felt like relatively few of them were ready to be let out in the world.”

Her friends felt differently.

“The stories hit me like an emotional punch,” McKay said. “I know this sounds like an overstatement, but they’re such gems.”

So her friends, including Jewish singer and director Sylvie Braitman, who died last year, started going through the boxes of paper. The stories were stacked in piles, each one stapled or paper-clipped together. Fabri had saved multiple versions of nearly every story, her handwritten notes scrawled in the margins, but she had not dated any of them. Her friends had to guess which version was the most complete, evolved draft.

When they began sorting through the writing, they realized they were reading “literary archeology,” as McKay described it.

Fabri was one of the first to begin compiling Holocaust survivors’ oral histories, and her own story had been recorded at length. When her friends compared the stories to her recorded memory of the Holocaust, much of it matched up.

“It was extraordinary to hear these pieces of fiction showing up in her recording,” McKay said.

Fabri immigrated to New York in 1956. In the ’70s, she settled in San Francisco where she founded the Holocaust Center of Northern California.

Eva Maiden, a longtime friend, said she thinks Fabri would be pleased her 12 stories are finally seeing the light of day. She hopes “Crickets Would Sing” will be used in book clubs, Holocaust education and history or literature classes.

“I believe Frances wanted to express the humanity that one could sometimes find under the most extreme and cruel circumstances,” Maiden said.

Maiden was surprised at the challenge of publishing Fabri’s manuscript. Often, publishers would be turned off at the notion of “another Holocaust story.”

“It’s troubling to me that there is no active campaign to publish survivors’ manuscripts that will crumple away as paper does,” she said. “So many have so many interesting stories.”

“Crickets Would Sing” by Frances Fabri (Plum Branch Press, 136 pages, $14)

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.