Two friends, different stories in print

Between the well-traveled residents of Pilgrim Place and the Claremont Colleges, the fabric of Claremont is made up of residents with many interesting stories. Nan Miller and Isabelle Teresa Huber are no exception—maybe only in the fact that theirs are available at your local bookstore.

Their 38 years of friendship began as PTA moms, and although their kids are now grown with children of their own, Ms. Miller and Ms. Huber continue to be fast friends.

After motherhood and grandmotherhood, the women now have a new milestone to share with the recent publishing of both of their debut novels. As recounted in her recently released autobiography Girl ‘44, Ms. Miller delves into her story as a former foster child who learns the story of her family and her past 53 years later. Ms. Huber, in Isabelle’s Attic, reflects on her history as one of three children in her hometown to have survived the Nazi persecution during World War II.

The longtime friends may have distinctly different narratives, but have found in each other the strength to tell their tale.

Years ago, Ms. Miller and Ms. Huber might not have been able to share much of their past nor have the courage to recount it. Today, the companions have begun a book tour sharing their stories with the Claremont community and beyond. Instead of being nervous with the sudden exposure, they find freedom in their vulnerability.

“The book has been really cleansing for me,” Ms. Miller said. “I’ve always fought for survival for as long as I can remember. It was always I need to take care of myself, self-preservation. Now that I’ve written it all on paper in two dimension, I feel free.”

Ms. Miller was adopted at age seven after spending two years in the care of the Cuyahoga County Department of Human Services in Ohio. With the adoption, she says she “got a new makeover” and a fresh start with a new set of parents and a high-society lifestyle filled with art, drama and music lessons.

Just days after her 60th birthday, she received an unexpected, life-changing phone call that brought her past back into her present. Reunited with her birth sister, Betsy, Ms. Miller reconnected with her past.

“I learned how much I was missing,” she writes.

Today she feels a new sense of self, thanks to the three years she spent with her birth sister before her passing.

“Not until I was…reunited with my birth family and my precious sister did I ever comprehend the severity of what was really going on inside the walled-up emotional fortress that stood for ‘me,’” Ms. Miller writes in Girl ‘44. “…[Betsy] is the key to my love-locked heart.”

Ms. Huber experienced a similar self-discovery in her albeit significantly different memoir, a recount of her survival from Nazi-occupied Poland. Ms. Huber admits that much of her Holocaust involvement over the years has involved “being mute about it.” It wasn’t until the early 1990s, after attending a meeting of the “First Children of the Holocaust” that she even began identifying herself as one of only thousands of Jewish children that survived the systematic slaughter during Hitler’s reign.

Ms. Huber was three years old when the Nazis swept through her hometown of Czortkow, Poland—what is present-day Ukraine. In an instant her life changed from privileged child in one of her town’s most affluent families to poverty as she was forced into a Nazi ghetto along with the other Jewish residents of Czorthow. Ms. Huber’s story might have been different if it weren’t for the courage of a 14-year-old girl, Meva, who came to her rescue. With a fake Jewish star sewn on her clothes, Meva snuck up to the borders of the ghetto one night, catching Ms. Huber as her father slid her down an air chute and away to safety. From age 3 to 6, she lived hidden away in the family’s attic, knowing love but also gravely conscious of the fear of persecution.

“Somehow even at that age I knew to really be quiet, be invisible,” she recalled. “I knew I was Jewish. Whatever that meant to me at the time, it meant that I could be killed. Not only that, but if I was found the entire family would be killed, and I was aware of that.”

Until recently, Ms. Huber’s story was nothing more than memories: old photos, her own experience and her mother’s stories recorded on tape by Ms. Huber’s husband decades later. It was her longtime friend Nan that gave Ms. Huber the push to finally tie together her recollections into a cohesive family history.

Ms. Miller, who was experiencing an all-time low, began writing down her story 10 years ago under the advisement of a therapist. The result for her was more than just catharsis. Inspired by her journaling experience, she decided to enroll in a creative writing course through the Claremont Adult Program.

Like most things Ms. Miller is passionate about, she dove in headfirst and creative writing was no different. Soon, she began her own writing group called the Night Writers’—which still meets every Thursday night—and her journal entries slowly became a narrative.

With her own novel started, Ms. Miller turned her attention to encouraging her friend Isabelle to do the same. With some persistence, the friends began meeting for regular morning coffee dates, during which Ms. Huber would recount her tales to Ms. Miller, who dutifully typed them up on the computer. Their collaboration proved instrumental for both authors.

“Having someone there to encourage and work alongside you makes you really stay on track and stay focused,” Ms. Miller said.

Ms. Huber welcomed the debut of her novel over the summer and has been at the side of her friend as she stepped into authorhood in October. As they relish their latest accomplishment and continuing book tour, neither woman has wasted any time away from the pen. Ms. Huber has already begun part two of her memoir, and Ms. Miller looks forward to the release of her second novel, Life Rudely Interrupted By Cancer, a collaboration with her husband, due out in early February.

“Writing the book made me feel like I could finally take a deep breath knowing I’d done something extra. I’ve shared something with the rest of the world and, most importantly, for my children and grandchildren,” Ms. Huber said. “It feels good.”

Ms. Miller and Ms. Huber invite the community to share in their story as part of their ongoing book tour. The Claremont authors will host a book signing and reading tonight, Friday, January 24, at Buddhamouse Emporium, 134 Yale Ave., from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Refreshments will be provided. A second book signing and reading will take place on Saturday, February 1 at the Claremont Forum, 586 W. First St., from 2 to 3:30 p.m. A portion of the book sales will be donated to the Prison Library. In addition to the book signings, Girl ‘44 and Isabelle’s Attic are available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

—Beth Hartnett


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