“I decided to spill the beans!”
Editor’s note: Max Glauben died on April 28, 2022, at the age of 94. In memory of him, we are republishing this interview from 2021.
Max Glauben was liberated on a death march from the Flossenbürg concentration camp when he was 17 years old. After decades of telling his story to students, opening up the Dallas Holocaust Museum, and recording his hologram, he published his book “The Upstander” on March 30th 2021. He and journalist Jori Epstein have been working on it together for five years.
Max, since the 1980s you have talked a lot about your history in front of students, during the March of the Living and for the recording of your hologram – why did you want to publish a book too?
Max Glauben: When I write something or when I did my hologram -, I answered over 4000 questions for that, I had made a conscious decision to open myself up. But when you´re speaking, things don´t always come out properly, because you don´t have enough time.
I didn´t want a long book, one that would take weeks to be read. I wanted it to be under 200 pages and be precise and to the point, and I didn´t want any hate or any bad things that could create hate to be included. I wanted to write a book that people will want to read.
How did you both meet and what made you decide to write this book together?
Jori Epstein: I went on the March of the Living 2012 when I was in high school, and Max was the group survivor. We visited the memorial sites of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, and Majdanek. Max was also able to tell us about some of his experiences when we visited his neighbourhood in Warsaw. That´s when I started to think more about the Holocaust and about his story.
In 2016, I moved back to Dallas after graduating from the University of Texas, and I saw Max at the synagogue literally three days after I got back to Dallas. He mentioned that he had just received a fresh batch of archive documents and he said he wanted to write his story. He had spoken about it at length. He had given lectures in Texas, in America, in Germany, in Poland, and in Israel, but no one had written a book yet and he wanted it to to be done.
Max Glauben: Many people wanted to write the book, but they only ever tried it for a few months. When Jori came into the picture, she went on the March of the Living with me, and she showed a real desire to write the story.
You have been working on this book for almost five years now, how would you describe this process?
Jori Epstein: I began by reviewing the oral history that he had done, I interviewed him over and over again, and I also interviewed his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and some of the students that he had educated on the March of the Living. I actually went back on the March of the Living with him in 2017 after we´d started this project, to ask him questions while we were in the camps as that brings up memories in a different way.
Max Glauben: Whenever you are speaking, and I have been speaking since the 80s, you have to disengage yourself from the sorrow that you feel and become a speaker. I think Jori has expressed my feelings better than if I had tried to express them, and she brought it out of me in a way. If you see the book, she quotes me, so she is writing but I am speaking.
»If the people during the Holocaust who were bystanders had been upstanders, would the Holocaust have happened? No!«Max Glauben
What has changed for you now, Max, after writing the book?
Max Glauben: I decided to spill the beans and it does good to your soul, because sometimes if you were abused or something like that, it´s sometimes too shameful to say that this was done to you. Once you release it, you become free.
“The Upstander” – why did you choose this title and why is this term so important to you?
Jori Epstein: Max loves the word “upstander” – he always says in his speeches: “You need to be an upstander, not a bystander!” Otherwise we will not be able to prevent this happening again.
I think that Max himself has shown and exemplified how to be an upstander. He gives lectures, and he educates people, and he shows what it means to be resilient, to emphasize love and life over death and hatred. I think the upstander is who he is and it is also what we hope, readers can be after they finish reading his memoir.
Max Glauben: When you live life, you have to have a standard, and you have to realize what your ambition is. It´s all in your head, the bad and good and you have to choose the good. If the people during the Holocaust who were bystanders had been upstanders, would the Holocaust have happened? No! But education can solve all the bigotry and the hatred and the bullying. So, I choose this: to be an upstander.
What would you like readers to learn from your book?
Max Glauben: Many things that are in the book can be helpful to other people and will show you that you are an individual. Whether you get an education or whether you have a diploma, if you are the CEO of a big company, all these things are available to everybody. When you are born, you don´t have anything. The book is the life bubble of an individual whose life was disrupted by the Holocaust.
He was a believer and believed in his religion and regardless of whether he went to school because he was denied the opportunity to go to school – but he took the initiative to learn how to get a job, how to read, how to write, how to drive, how to be a good person, how to help. And even without an education, his ambition enabled him to build a museum, get a doctorate from the Southern Methodist University, and become the Texan of the Year 2019. This is what the book is: An example of something everyone can do if they take the right road, and have the right attitude, and become an upstander.
Jori Epstein: We hope that people will understand that the Holocaust and this atrocity happened to human beings. This happened to people like us, and we need to make sure this doesn´t happen again.
What can we all do nowadays to prevent anything like the Holocaust from happening again?
Max Glauben: Our democracy runs on the constitution, which starts “We the People.” Each one of us has to have a part in creating democracy. There are people who don´t know what the truth is, and they create lies, and if they present them hundreds of times, the lies become the truth to a brainwashed mind.
So if you´re in a group or in a family and someone starts believing that the lies are true, you have to convince them that they are lies. But it´s much harder to convince them that it´s a lie after the lie has been created. You need to teach yourself how to have self-confidence and be an upstander.
Never, never, never give up, and if at first you don´t succeed, try, and try, and try again.
Thank you very much for this interview. The book “The Upstander. How Surviving the Holocaust Sparked Max Glauben’s Mission to Dismantle Hate“, published by Post Hill Press is now available online.