Northeast Times

Labor of love

  • A family affair: Rhonda Fink-Whitman (right) signs copies of her book, 94 Maidens, which retells the story of her mother, Tania Fink (left), during the Holocaust. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • A family affair: Fink-Whitman holds a copy of her book, which was first published in October. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Rhonda Fink-Whit­man felt a spe­cial ob­lig­a­tion when she began writ­ing 94 Maid­ens, a nov­el in­spired by ac­tu­al events dur­ing the Holo­caust.

“As a Jew­ish edu­cat­or and the daugh­ter of a Holo­caust sur­viv­or, it was not my choice to write the book, it was my re­spons­ib­il­ity,” she said. 

Fink-Whit­man, a Somer­ton nat­ive, took her time writ­ing the pa­per­back nov­el.

“The book took 12 years from con­cep­tion to hold­ing the book in my hand,” she said dur­ing a re­cent book sign­ing at Philmont Coun­try Club.

It’s the first nov­el for Fink-Whit­man, a 50-year-old Ben­s­alem res­id­ent who has served as a Tango Traffic tele­vi­sion re­port­er and a guest host on QVC.

The au­thor bills the book, first pub­lished in Oc­to­ber, as a story of hero­ism, res­ist­ance, mar­tyr­dom and sur­viv­al.

“People get in­ves­ted with the char­ac­ters,” she said.

There are three main themes.

One cen­ters on 93 Pol­ish school­girls who are about to be forced in­to pros­ti­tu­tion by Nazi sol­diers. The book title is a takeoff on 93 Maid­ens, a poem about their story.

A second theme is about how the au­thor’s moth­er’s fam­ily plays a game of cat and mouse with Nazis in Ger­many.

And the third theme is Fink-Whit­man’s travels to Europe to vis­it con­cen­tra­tion camps and to ex­am­ine sealed Nazi doc­u­ments in an ef­fort to learn more about her fam­ily’s struggles dur­ing the Holo­caust.

“It’s three stor­ies in­ter­woven,” she said. “I threaded them to­geth­er.”

The 291-page book con­sists of 76 chapters. Fink-Whit­man ex­plained that she didn’t want to bog down read­ers with longer chapters.

The au­thor is­sues a spoil­er alert. Read­ers should not check out the pic­tures, doc­u­ments and news­pa­per art­icles in the back un­til they’ve read the book. She prom­ises a “big re­veal” at the end of the book.

“It’s a pro­fes­sion­al book in every way,” she said. “I was very pas­sion­ate about the pro­ject. I wanted to get it done.”

Fink-Whit­man at­ten­ded loc­al schools — Wat­son Comly Ele­ment­ary School, CCA Baldi Middle School and George Wash­ing­ton High School.

Today, she’s mar­ried with two chil­dren, and she and her fam­ily vo­lun­teer for the USO.

Fink-Whit­man sup­ports a state bill that would man­date the teach­ing of the Holo­caust and gen­o­cide in pub­lic schools. She was at a re­cent Rhawn­hurst Nat­ur­ally Oc­cur­ring Re­tire­ment Com­munity (NORC) meet­ing, where the bill’s prime spon­sors — state Sen. An­thony Wil­li­ams and state Rep. Brendan Boyle —spoke about the le­gis­la­tion.

Af­ter­ward, she con­tac­ted her state rep­res­ent­at­ive, Re­pub­lic­an Gene Di­Gir­o­lamo, who per­son­ally called her back to say that he would sign on as a co-spon­sor.

The way she sees it, adults will learn about the Holo­caust by watch­ing movies such as Schind­ler’s List or doc­u­ment­ar­ies about Ad­olf Hitler on the His­tory Chan­nel. She thinks young people should learn about the at­ro­cit­ies in school.

Now, Fink-Whit­man is do­ing her part with 94 Maid­ens.

The book’s cov­er fea­tures a pic­ture of the au­thor’s moth­er, Tania Fink, clutch­ing a doll. The 2-year-old is shown with her par­ents, Man­fred and Re­gina Joel. The fam­ily lived in Ber­lin, Ger­many, but was sep­ar­ated dur­ing the war.

Tania was sent to the the Ber­gen-Belsen con­cen­tra­tion camp com­plex from Janu­ary to April 1945. That’s the same camp where Anne Frank died.

Tania was luck­i­er, lib­er­ated at age 6½ by Brit­ish armed forces. She stayed in Eng­land un­til com­ing to the United States at age 12 in 1949 un­der the spon­sor­ship of the Hebrew Im­mig­rant Aid So­ci­ety (HIAS).

Today, she is 74 and lives on Ferndale Street in the West­wood sec­tion of Somer­ton. The book is ded­ic­ated to her.

“I used her memor­ies in the book,” Fink-Whit­man said.

The book made its de­but in front of 200 people dur­ing a fun­draiser at Mel­rose Coun­try Club for the Holo­caust Aware­ness Mu­seum and Edu­ca­tion Cen­ter, at the Klein JCC at 10100 Jam­is­on Ave.

The au­thor gave her moth­er a copy of the book wrapped in a bow.

Fink, of course, loves her daugh­ter’s nov­el.

“It’s won­der­ful,” she said. “I’m so proud of her. She’s very in­sight­ful.”

Re­gina Joel sur­vived the Holo­caust, too, and was even­tu­ally re­united with her daugh­ter. The book chron­icles Man­fred’s jour­ney, in­clud­ing time at Aus­chwitz.

Fink-Whit­man watched a video­tape of her grand­moth­er that was pro­duced by The Shoah Found­a­tion, an or­gan­iz­a­tion foun­ded by Steven Spiel­berg that chron­icles the stor­ies of Holo­caust sur­viv­ors.

“I really got the story mostly from her,” she said. 

Fink-Whit­man is spend­ing a lot of time mar­ket­ing the book, and it’s found homes in places such as col­lege book­stores and Holo­caust mu­seums in Hou­s­ton and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

Re­cently, she traveled to New York to at­tend the tele­vi­sion show Live with Kelly and Mi­chael. Kelly Ri­pa ac­cep­ted a book from Fink-Whit­man and prom­ised to read it. Lucy Liu, filling in for Mi­chael Stra­han, eagerly took a copy.

“She took the book like it was a gift from God,” Fink-Whit­man said.

The story first came to her as a film, and her writ­ing won a screen­play com­pet­i­tion.

The more she thinks about 94 Maid­ens and the more pos­it­ive re­views she gets, she wants to see the story on the big screen.

“This is a movie that needs to be made,” she said. ••

The book is avail­able for $15 at Doylestown Book Shop or at amazon.com, 94­maid­ens.com or barnes­and­noble.com

The au­thor in­vites people to vis­it the 94 Maid­ens page on Face­book and to fol­low her on Twit­ter @94­maid­ens.

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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