Through The Eyes Of A Survivor

Her Navajo name translates to “Woman who asks too many questions,” but Colette Waddell asked just enough questions of Holocaust survivor Nina Morecki to craft a gripping tale of Holocaust survival, thoroughly told. Colette is neither Jewish nor Navajo, but the author of “Through The Eyes Of A Survivor” – her first book – is about to embark on a second non-fiction project: that of tracing a Navajo family’s history back to the 1860s, beginning from the time a member of the family survives the Navajo Long Walk. Ms Waddell held a crowded and successful book signing at Tecolote recently.

The book is an impressive package of professional layout and design, including superb typography, high-quality photographic reproduction, high-quality paper and a tactile heft that is equal to anything published by any of the top-rated publishing houses. It is an accomplishment of the highest order that took Ms Waddell five years to finish. A sticker on the jacket cover buttresses that opinion: the book has received an “Indie Excellence Finalist 2007” Book Award.

“Through The Eyes of a Survivor” is a first-hand account of Holocaust survivor Nina Morecki’s journey from pre-World War II Poland to today’s United States of America. Mrs. Morecki is a former Santa Barbara resident (she now lives in Pomona, near her daughter). This well-edited and well-written tome intersperses the author’s observations and historical references with reminiscences by Mrs. Morecki, who was born in 1920, to create a vivid and disturbing recounting of that turbulent and deadly era.

The following interview took place sitting at a table outside Pierre Lafond in Montecito’s upper village.

Q. This is a very good book, one that virtually any publishing house would be proud to call its own; why did you decide to self-publish rather than go the more traditional route?

A. When I started working with Nina well over five years ago, I realized upon finishing that I didn’t have the luxury of shopping for an agent, and that if I found one who would take me on, that we would find a publisher who would take on a memoir of an unknown. Nina’s real desire was to see her story in printed form… it was a way of her having victory over the Nazis and what they did to her family.

But, isn’t it going to be difficult to see a financial return as a self-publisher, especially with a book of this quality?

If you met Nina, you’d realize what a force she is. She has a way of convincing you to do things you might not normally do. I just fell in love with her and because I had the means to publish the book myself, I decided to go ahead with it.

How did you and Mrs. Morecki meet?

We met when I went back to college (I was in my mid-thirties, early forties) at UCSB and took a history class on Holocaust studies with Dr. Harold Marcuse. The professor had invited Nina to speak to the class and we just got along. I was in the middle of research on a Navajo family, and when Nina heard about that, she asked if I could do her story also.

But, after five years of effort, wouldn’t you want a major publishing house promoting the book, in order to tell this story to more people?

Well, sure, but if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it right. Besides, I really liked the idea of controlling the story, of being able to decide what to leave in and what to leave out, what photographs to use, things like that. [Publishing it myself] allowed me to respect Nina’s wishes and keep the project personal. Now, of course, I’m poor after publishing it, but maybe I’ll sell enough books to pay for it.

Where is your book available, and do you plan to do a book tour?

It is available at Chaucer’s and Tecolote locally. I have sent a press kit and package to Harpo Productions in Chicago (Oprah Winfrey’s company) and Holocaust museums. I’m trying to get the word out and I think Nina would interview very well. There aren’t many survivors left and the Holocaust is being denied in certain parts of the world. It’s still a very important topic.

How do you account for the high quality of the layout and design?

I couldn’t have done it without Ellen Reid a publishing consultant who owns a company called “Book Shepherding.” She helps you get your project underway. Dottie Albertine, who works through Ellen Reid, did the layout and design.

What is your background? Where were you born?

I was born in San Diego, and am a navy brat, so I’ve lived all over. My father was Charles Hancock Guernsey (he is now deceased)… my mom is Arlene but prefers to be called Carrie; she lives in the family home on the Rogue River. When my dad retired, he joined up with Grumman and I moved with the family to teach the Iranians to fly F-14s for a couple of months (in the mid-‘70s). After that, we moved back to California to Camarillo.

How about your schooling and career choices?

I attended Ventura College after Camarillo High, studied music, got married (at 19), and had a housekeeping business. I also worked in a silk-screening factory, waitressed in Oxnard, worked at Carrows, and played in a rock band called “Bad Aztecs.”

Do you have your own family?

I have four stepchildren that I raised with my husband, Ross Waddell, a former partner with Kinko’s. We met when I worked at Kinko’s in Santa Barbara in the 1980s. Our oldest daughter is twenty-seven and she and her husband just gave me a grandson (he is now nine months old). So, honey, I’m forty-five, and I’m a grandmother. My other children are a twenty-one-year-old stepson and the twins are twenty. I’m now an empty nester, in transition.

How did you and Ross meet, exactly?

I was divorced at age twenty-three, and ended up doing office work. I applied at Kinko’s, began doing data entry, became a profit-and-loss analyst, and then got involved with doing some of the video work for the company picnic, and met Ross.

Six years ago then, you had three teenagers and a twenty-something in the house, yet still managed to write this book. Do you have any advice for others who might wish to follow along that path?

Avoid thinking about what you’re doing and the cost; if you do, you’ll stop. I know that sounds careless, but if I knew beforehand what I would have to put into the project before I did it, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Get good people to work with; a budget is good; try and stay within it, and know where it’s important to not stay in that budget. Like the photographs (in the book). Very few survivors have any photographs; they were lucky to get away with anything. Nina’s servant had saved the photographs and when Nina went back just after liberation, she ran into Hannah, who took care of her for a while and then produced these photos. [Photographer and photo restoration artist] Dee Dee Degalia had to take the photographs and try to restore them in a way that they could come out well. That, I was willing to spend money on.

So, my advice would be to spend money on an editor, and on layout and design. Publishing companies are tough to get to. Publishing it myself ended up being a good idea.

Any regrets?

I could not afford to do an index.

What would you call your writing style?

Style? I never fancied myself as a writer as a kid, so I guess I happened upon my ‘style’ by accident. When I was interviewing Nina I kept a diary and my editor saw the comments I had put alongside Nina’s story, reflecting how her story had affected me and how she looked when she was doing these interviews. My editor said, ‘you’ve got to include these.’ So, quite by accident, I found this style of writing.

Do you see any comparisons between the Nazi tyranny and what’s happening now, particularly in the Islamic world?

My father used to watch these old programs, ‘The World At War,’ [narrated by Richard Burton] and I just loved them. When I viewed the episodes about the Holocaust I could never understand how one group could do this to another group. It’s infuriating for Nina to hear people denying the Holocaust, which didn’t have to happen if people had stood up. But, you have to have the right stew in order to have a leader or leaders take hold. I think if people are thirsty enough, they’ll drink anything.

A New Building For The Sanitary District

The Montecito Sanitary District has a new maintenance and locker room, and it is in the first new building built at the district’s treatment facility in 22 years. It’s also the first new building in 40 years to accommodate staff and maintenance activities.

The building was designed by Kruger Bensen Ziemer Architects, Inc., of Santa Barbara and built by Carroll Construction Company. It was completed on schedule and on budget.