Putting down on paper the words she needed to say

Olga Winkler is scared.

The 84-year-old Emeryville resident isn’t scared to drive her car alone or even to take a walk in the park. But she is scared that the world today resembles the Nazi Europe she and her family escaped from more than 70 years ago.

“The restlessness of the people, because of the downturn in the economy and the limited job possibilities, has created a resurgence of agitation, bullying and generalized discontent,” says Winkler, who has been active in the Jewish community for 50 years.

Olga Winkler

“And,” she adds, “people are so rude and bad to each other.”

So Winkler, a longtime board member of the JCC of the East Bay who worked with the National Council of Jewish Women, has decided to act.

Recently she finished her second book, “Can We Repair the World?” It challenges young people — high school and college students — to act and “help there be a better world, [because] our children are not learning the proper way,” Winkler says.

“I felt that children, teens, should know what happened and could happen again — overnight,” adds Winkler, whose first book, “A Family Affair,” was a biographical account of her family’s life in Hungary and subsequent escape from the horrors of the Holocaust in 1940.

Winkler, a former director of resettlement for Jewish Family and Children’s Services, hopes that the self-published “Can We Repair the World?” will get young people to work toward solving the world’s problems and halt the tide of toxic behaviors plaguing the planet.

“I hope teens will have discussion groups about the Holocaust era,” says Winkler, a widow for 22 years and still active on JFCS of the East Bay’s Holocaust Program Advisory Committee. “People have said the Holocaust is over and done with. I need to wake people up that things are going on that are not good.”

The first section of her book chronicles the Nazi era, 1933-1945; the second section contains essays Winkler wrote to impart her vision of tikkun olam; the final section contains poems and other writings from the children at Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration outside Prague in which 15,000 young people entered but only 100 survived.

Winkler highlighted the creative output of children living in Nazi death camps because she hopes today’s young people can grow into future leaders who will make a difference. In other words, she is downright fed up with those in charge throughout the world today.

“We are not represented properly by our elected officials,” says Winkler, who also serves on the Oakland Senior Advisory Committee at Kaiser Permanente. “All morals have been interrupted. I do not want to see a world like I saw early in my life for me, my grandchildren and other grandchildren.”

Winkler first shared her stories in written form after the death of her son 13 years ago. Now that book, “A Family Affair,” serves as a moral lighthouse for her three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

She’d be happy if her new book could serve as a moral lighthouse for an even broader audience.

“I am old. I have always been a good person,” she says. “I don’t know if [this book] is a legacy. But I hope that through reading my story, others will seize the occasion to stop discrimination and hatred of others before the world is inflamed in another Holocaust or ethnic cleansing.”

Not only that, she adds, but “we must return to decency to achieve harmony and fairness to the people of this wonderful country and the world.”

“Can We Repair the World?” by Olga Winkler (47 pages, self-published, $14). To purchase, email [email protected].

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.