Jean Frank
Jean Frank, Holocaust Survivor

November 27, 2011, Judd

I’m a 30-year old laid-back San Diego surfer and secular Jew. I can’t stand poetry. I don’t like to express extreme emotions. I never cry nor do I laugh out loud frequently. I feel as if i need a catalyst to unleash my pentup emotional energy.

Lately, I’ve been spending time with Jean Frank, Holocaust survivor, poet, author, humanitarian, open microphone emcee, and comedienne. Listening to Jean’s stories, laughing at her jokes, and yes, even reading her poetry has allowed me to be more in touch with my emotions. I no longer feel afraid to feel sad.

I first met Jean, who doesn’t know her exact age but is approximately 80, when I interviewed her last year for another publication. I kept in touch with her sporadically, but during the month of October I spent several hours with her, helping run errands such as picking up pastries and bread near her La Jolla apartment, which will eventually end up being digested by less fortunate souls that Jean has befriended.

Born in Poland, Jean is the host of Poetry Unlimited, a monthly poetry and music gathering held at the brand new La Jolla library (this is the third decade that Jean has been hosting). I recently played guitar for one of her latest installments. I also went with Jean to her favorite Middle Eastern restaurant and went to see the movie, Ray.

Jean has been profiled in dozens of publications but in case you’ve never heard of this remarkable soul, here’s a rundown of her life story. As a young teen, Jean was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Her parents, a brother and one of her two sisters perished in the Holocaust.

She wrote a poignant novella explicitly chronicling her experience during the Holocaust, entitled ‘Not Now Not Ever’. On the day I took Jean to see Ray, she was preparing a stack of about 30 of her books to sell at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair.

As if she didn’t suffer enough brutality at the hands of the Nazis and the Russian liberators, Jean suffered the most tragic blow of all approximately three years ago, the death of one of her two sons – Michael.

How she still maintains a good sense of humor, walks vigorously every day and has the energy of someone 20 years her junior is a mystery to me.

Every week, Jean picks up a freezer-full of Julian health bread and gives it away to the needy.

“I know hundreds of people,” Jean says. “Because of all the years oi hunger in a concentration camp and the hell I went through living in a world of so much hate, I can’t let darkness win and let people go hungry.”

As I sit in Jean·s apartment, feasting on a vegan meal she has prepared for me (she hasn’t touched meat or animal products L1 over 25 years and she won’t drink tap water or eat sweets), Jean causes my tear ducts to activate, telling me, “If I possessed hate in my heart, Hitler would have been victorious over me. ·

“But I have victory over him. I have love and compassion for other people.”

Jean siarted writing poetry at age five and had no formal advanced education, something she is embarrassed about. I tell her she need not be. Her memory is astounding and her intellect and mind are extremely sharp.

She flips through pages of her seven-volume poetry collection. She hopes that one day, her work will be published. Jean is the only poet who has ever moved me.

Jean reads her poem, “Jerusalem:”

‘The house stays cold/Inside the walls of pain/ Tears are dried up between the plaster into the end of time/ I cannot stretch my memories under thousands of layers of ashes and burning flesh/ Millions of miles away in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall! I left a slip of paper between the cracks// stood there a thousand years later waiting for an answer.”

When Jean wakes up in the morning, she’s grateful that she’s alive. I remind myself when I’m around her to appreciate life like she does, as if I’m 50 years older.

“I don’t think about tomorrow,” Jean tells me. “I try not to be stuck in the past either, the memories are too painful. I find blessings in everything I do.”

Practically everything Jean has done will soon be archived at the San Diego Historical Society. In her apartment office, Jean has several boxes of her memorabilia that she is donating to the Society.

I take pleasure in listening to Jean’s gossip about her friends. I delight in her zest for cinema, health food, and spiritual pontifications. It has been a blessing for me to know Jean. I wish her at least 20 more years of health and happiness.

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.