BY JUDD HANDLER
ContributorLa Jolla resident Jean Frank spent four years in Nazi prison camps. Her death on June 5 of heart failure at age 84 marks another passing of a Holocaust survivor, now numbered to be less than 100 in San Diego County.
The day after Frank’s funeral, the lesson of preserving survivors’ stories became tragically apparent, as an extremist opened fire at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., killing one security guard.
Larry Klein, Frank’s son, said he hopes to continue his mother’s legacy of fighting intolerance. Frank was a frequent visitor to the Bishop’s School, lecturing about her experiences during internment.
“The shooting in Washington at the Holocaust Museum made me realize how important it is to keep my mother’s and other survivor’s memories alive,” added Klein, who hopes to reach his goal, in part by distributing copies of his mother’s account of her Holocaust experience, “Not Now, Not Ever.”
Written in English when she was 42, the novel is an amazing achievement, considering the Polish-born Frank was nowhere near fluent in English at the time.
Filled with lucid details about her family life before Nazi occupation, Frank’s book, such as the celebrated survivor Primo Levi’s writings, also contains stunning juxtaposition of natural beauty with the bleakness and horrors in the camps.
Frank’s parents, a brother and one of two sisters perished in the camps. Her other sister, Guta, passed away approximately 25 years ago, according to Klein, who will also get help in preserving his mother’s legacy by the San Diego Historical Society.
The Society has been collecting Frank’s mementos for the last six years, including letters, photo albums, clippings of dozens of articles written about her, as well as her poetry.
Since 1977, Frank had been a staple in the La Jolla arts scene. Her program, “Poetry Unlimited,” was a popular open mic-format for aspiring poets, musicians and artists.
Although she measured not even 5 feet in height, Frank commanded a lot of respect at her poetry gatherings, some might say even fear. People would think twice about leaving early for fear of being ostracized by Frank.
Nobody doubted the enormity of Frank’s heart. She collected food from Julian Bakery in Bird Rock as well as from supermarkets and farmer’s markets, handing them out with little or no help, to those in need (she also distributed clothing).
“She was constantly helping those less fortunate than her,” said Klein, adding, “My mother’s experience in the Warsaw ghetto and Nazi camps made her appreciate what it’s like to be hungry.”
Her son is planning a celebration of her life in September.
Copies of Frank’s book, “Not Now Not Ever,” are available by calling Larry Klein at (858) 220-9193. Proceeds will be used to buy copies of the book for schools.