The Writings of
Robert M. Katzman
See video of Robert Katzman reading excerpts from Fighting Words Vol. 5 here!
Paul Eisenbacher Forward to Volume 5:
When I first met Robert Katzman, I had no idea who he was or what his life adventures entailed.
My interest in visiting his Magazine Memories back-issue periodical store in north suburban Chicago was to acquire an original copy of an old comic book, if he possessed such a copy. He did not. However, due to his varied connections in the world of collectables, he did locate what I was seeking.
Many visits and purchases later, I had acquired a variety of assorted and eclectic magazines, mostly of historical significance, due to my interests as both a teacher and a student, of history. So began a journey of friendship and mutual interest that had lasted almost twenty years. In this time, I have come to know Bob Katzman on a more personal level through varied common interests, experiences, and private moments of his life which he has shared with me and others by his previous writings, lectures and public appearances.
Throughout his stories, it is Bob's extraordinary voice that is heard. The life experiences and intricate feelings of this common man whom at many times takes "the road less traveled". Yet throughout this tenacious path one will be touched by his humanity, as his humanity has touched those who know him.
In this 5th volume by Robert Katzman, the stories follow a more personal note: European family history. His is a Jewish family. Stark and terrible stories he heard as a young boy, after asking questions of his grandmother for his general knowledge, not yet knowing or understanding the complications and consequences of Jews trying to maintain their culture and even their existence in an extremely hostile Eastern European environment. Then, to his dismay at the age of eight-years-old, learning too much about members of his family who were unable to escape World War One pogroms and then total racial genocide in World War Two.
The impact of what he learned and how he learned it, and the consequences of knowing too much, too soon forms the heart of this book and the continued relevancy of that time--now over half a century ago--on his life today, as a father and grandfather.
Bob's family's experience are central in his stories, whether in Eastern Europe or in the United States, after 1900. I am not Jewish. I am of German descent. The reason that I mention this is to demonstrate that Bob's detailed stories of the history of his family transcends ethnic, racial and cultural lines. Family is the primary subject, and all his readers can share in that venture.
As a teacher of History for the past thirty-three years, my appreciation of the importance of the past has been paramount in my life. The history of Bob's family's life is also paramount to his life and the intense stories presented here in this, his latest book, in particular.
When I first visited the United States Holocaust Memorial many years ago, I received a passport-sized "identity-card" with the name and family history of an actual concentration camp victim, so that there would be an opportunity for me to feel the impact of the Holocaust on a more personal level, on a one to one basis.
It worked. I have not forgotten the trauma of that singular experience to this day.
The writings of Bob Katzman and his particular story-telling ability will involve you in his deep personal journey, and also give you the reader the same shared opportunity. Those stories also include wry humor and some unexpected moments (for both him and us) of startling sensuality, as well. Not all was grim. His stories represent not only a family history, but an historical march of time through the eyes and heart of a literary Jewish writer.
In the U. S. Holocaust Museum I recall quite vividly the huge and overpowering tower of photographs representing the horrific scale of Jewish life extinguished in the Polish town of Ejszyszki in 1941 by the mobile and relentless death squads, German Einsatzgruppen. Of the 4,000 original Jewish inhabitants, only 29 survived the war. One more step toward the Nazi's goal of the Final Solution: The total annihilation of Jewish life in all of Europe.
All those families--their lives and dreams--can only be seen, but not known. In this personal journey, Robert Katzman will tell the hopes, dreams and lives of his particular family, and of his own, as well.
So, welcome to the extraordinary voice of a gifted story-teller, Robert M. Katzman.
A Chicago-born South-Sider who from the age of fifteen to the present has owned a chain of newsstands, a kosher delicatessen, two bookstores and currently a back-issue magazine store, where I came in to buy a comic book one day and instead found a man, and then a friend, of deep understanding who possessed what I call the Three C's of life: commitment, compassion and character.
That is Robert Katzman, a man who has served people all his life and now through his stories, serves us once again.
A Note from Bob Katzman on Paul Eisenbacher:
So who's Paul and why am I delighted that he agreed to write a forward to this particular book?
The other five books currently in print are collections of 15 to 20 different stories about many things. But, this very difficult to read and worse to live through book, about the terrifying effect of my learning about Holocaust--in great detail--as a young child and how it continued to resonate through my life for over 50 years, required someone with a perspective that I felt I could trust.
I wasn't sure who to ask, until one day Paul walked through the door to my periodical store to visit me as he does, well, periodically and, in a second, I saw that he was the man. This is what I know about him and why he's special to me.
When he said he was looking for a "comic book" nearly twenty years ago, he is understating the case, and the difficulty of finding what he was seeking: The first fifty issues of Mad magazine, including the first twenty issues or so that were actually comic books in size and paper content, and not yet magazines.
I had only been open about a year or so after my very cool foreign language travel bookstore was utterly crushed by the onslaught of the giant chains that not only kill the store, but also snuff out all the collective knowledge that individual bookstore owners possess which make shopping with them a unique experience.
So, I was still kind of trying to feel my way as a person changing his hobby of collecting historic periodicals into a business. I did not collect comic and had very little knowledge of them. But I did know a lot of people-mostly gone now-who were able to help me accomplish what Paul wanted, over a period of two years. His early support is one reason my store still exists among the seven left in America as of this writing.
He asked me to do something hard, and do it well, and I did. In the process we had many conversations about politics, quality of paper, history-a lot of history, because that is both something we're addicted to learning more about, except Paul has a degree and I have 100,000 periodicals-wanna trade, Paul???
Paul was born in January, 1943 and lived in a mostly ethnic-German part of Chicago now called Lakeview.
His family came from Germany, on both sides, his mother's from Baden-Baden in Bavaria or south Germany, and his father's from near Danzig, an old formerly Prussian area. His great grandfather, Peter Eisenbacher, was in the great Chicago Fire of October, 1871, in what is now near the Old Town part of Chicago around Armitage, Clark and Halsted streets.
He was uncertain what to do with his life and after he enrolled in Illinois State University in 1961, he flunked out of it in 1962. After that, frustrated, confused and directionless, he sat in a park all night asking himself:
His parents told him they would support whatever he decided to do. While working that part out, he decided that if nothing better occurred to him, he would join the United States Marines in 1963. In stead, and probably fortuitously, he enrolled in North Park College in a formerly solid Swedish part of Chicago and ultimately received a BA and then an MA in History.
He taught, mostly in the suburban Barrington area near Chicago from 1967 to 2001. From what I know of him and his gentle and approving nature, I suspect that for many students, he was their own Mr. Chips.
He was in a regular advanced placement consortium with twenty other schools, for twenty years, discussing what the best path to follow was in creating a meaningful curriculum for all those school's students. Paul principally taught grades 9 to 12.
He has a library of over one thousand books. Unlike as lot of people, I can actually visualize what that looks like. He has forty-five first edition books that he prizes, along with his most treasured possession, a baseball signed by all the players on the 1954 Chicago Cubs team.
He feels that the election of Barak Obama is a seminal moment in American history, as I do, and that this country took way over two hundred years to mature to a point where it could elect a man and not a color. He feels significant and positive change will follow that moment, no matter what party a person belongs to.
But, when he wasn't teaching, Paul saw the world, even without the US Marines.
He has traveled to every continent except South America (I told him I don't know how he managed to miss it, but if he walked straight out the door of my store...for about four thousand miles...he'd run right into it), three trips to China for a total of two months there, almost all of Western Europe, three weeks in Tibet-probably why he's so serene, I guess-and a year in Taipei, Taiwan where he learned to speak Mandarin Chinese. He played a bit part in a movie there as a Russian soldier from the 1900 period. Not yet out on video, sorry.
He's been to Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, before the terrible war there, where he went to see where whole families of gorillas still live in large numbers in the wild. A tropical cloudburst happened while he was exploring there during the rainy season and he told me he sought shelter under an enormous banana leaf during the torrential storm.
I find him low key, modest, casually knowledgeable about vast stretches of American history to the minutest detail, and kind. Surprisingly kind.
Some time ago, when I was trying to survive a tough patch in my business right after the 9/11 disaster in New York City, and long before the current recession, I was lamenting to him, miserably, that there were no options open to me to pay some essential bills. He listened then quietly offered to pay me $1,000 in advance for future magazine he might want, and kept me going when other stores like mind were folding up one after the other around America. It wasn't just the money, and that was a lot of money when none was coming in, it was the sensitive way he did it, to not make feel like it was charity, or a loan. Paul took a chance on me, when I needed it, without making a big deal about it.
It was years ago, he long ago managed to find enough magazines to repay the "advance" and he never mentions it. Because, he just wouldn't. But I remember, Paul.
It may be small bore history, nothing really significant in the great scheme of things. But it's part of MY history, and to my family and me, it matters.
So, in not that many words, that's who Paul Eisenbacher is. A person of character and class. I'm honored that he agreed to write a forward to my most historical book. Thanks, Paul, again.
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