Sitting on the patio of his South Shore home after completing a 10-mile hike, Leon Malmed epitomizes his belief that life’s problems are eventually resolved.
When he wrote “We Survived … At Last I Speak,” a memoir about his and his sister’s escape from the Holocaust in Occupied France, Malmed, 75, wanted to go beyond the events of World War II. He wanted to explain he’d lived a good life even though both his parents disappeared after entering Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“We all have problems. There’s no one who goes throughout life without problems, but they can all be solved. I am an example that you don’t have to be bitter all your life … I know that there is a solution. The good has always triumphed,” Malmed said.
That attitude didn’t come easily. Malmed couldn’t talk about his childhood spent hiding from Nazi roundups, threats and air raids for six decades. It was too difficult, he said. Malmed was 5 years old and living with his Jewish family when the war started. After his parents were arrested in 1942, their neighbors agreed to care for Malmed and his sister, Rachel.
“It is a story that is very painful and emotional. For 60 years, I simply could not talk about it,” Malmed said. “My family asked, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ But it was very difficult. I’m not a writer.”
Ten years ago, Malmed began speaking at schools, churches and synagogues about his past. He complied a few pages of notes, but the writing process didn’t accelerate until he sat down with his sister in New York. The pair wrote 10 pages together and when Malmed returned to California, he churned out 75 more.
In 2010, he published 500 copies of his book in France. The English-translation was “horrible,” so the next year Malmed rewrote the memoir for an American audience. A few months ago, Zea Books with the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, published the book in English.
“I became more at ease with the events as I was writing the book, although I shed about a liter of tears,” Malmed said. “What is so heartwarming about the reviews is that they said it was necessary to tell that story.”
For the first time, his family could learn about the details of his experience. Malmed said his son finished the 213-page memoir in one night.
Malmed explores his Jewish identity in the book. As a child, he didn’t know why people didn’t like Jews — a question he still doesn’t have the answer to 70 years later. But when he moved to the United States in 1964, the racism stopped even though it still took many years before he was comfortable with the word “Jew.”
“Today my shame of being Jewish is totally gone. I am proud of my heritage. A heritage that tragically claimed the life of my parents and more than twenty members of my family. A heritage that has caused the murder of six million human beings …” Malmed writes in “We Survived … At Last I Speak.”
In December, Malmed relocated permanently to the South Shore from Silicon Valley, where he’d worked at tech companies including Syquest and SanDisk. He plans to speak at the Lake Tahoe Community College Friday and share part of his legacy.
“You don’t want to talk about it until you get older and you realize you need to leave a legacy,” Malmed said. “I want my family to know what happened because I never shared this with them. The other thing is that on a scale of time, what happened during World War II wasn’t that long ago. We live a calm life in Tahoe, but we need to be aware that could happen again. You have a job, an apartment, but it could be taken away. That’s what happened in World War II,” he said.