Lewin-authored book explains Repp’s harrowing experience
By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
Jack Repp said he was 69 pounds and 99.9 percent dead when he was liberated from a concentration camp.
“I came the worst of the worst, not a tooth in my mouth … but I still had my mind,” he said.
“This book is me and Dan (Lewin) captured it.”
His life is now bound in the pages of Dreams & Jealousy: The Story of Holocaust Survivor Jack Repp as told to Dan Lewin.
“You must depend on God. He works in mysterious ways,” he adds.
That fervent belief comes from Repp, for whom the book is an intense accounting of his experiences, some but not all, shared with thousands over the last two decades.
“Watching coverage of racist, hateful crimes,” he winces, “they beat Jews and burned homes. That’s how it looked. I’m reminded of pogroms enough it made me sick. I never thought I’d see this in America.”
It’s his struggle and survival that he wants people to read — hoping that it begets a change in the hatefulness of 2017, something he thought long over. “I want people should know the truth, accept what happened, and do their part so it doesn’t happen again,” said Repp, never accepting payment for speaking and donating the book’s proceeds.
“The book captures stages of Jack’s life, not only the horror but also experiences that brought him recovery,” said Lewin. “I approach this as a work of art and consider such a book the greatest gift someone can give their family, lasting beyond their lifetime.”
The son of Peter and Beverley, Lewin is married to Yael and is the father of six. He studied at Jerusalem’s Mayanot Chabad Yeshiva and was ordained by the Rabbinical College of America. After spending three years directing Binghamton University’s Chabad Center, he returned to Dallas, his hometown. In addition to writing memoirs, and a column for the TJP, he co-founded and directs the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. He and Yael also regularly teach Torah study.
Lewin says it was necessary for Repp to recall significantly unpleasant experiences during their weekly six-hour meetings. “There were times I needed to press, and times we stopped, because it was unbearable,” said Lewin, noting that in previous interviews, including by the Shoah Foundation, there were recollections he simply couldn’t yet expel. “It’s almost impossible to believe this happened in our lifetime. It did.”
The book covers Repp’s life in Poland, the atrocities, his recovery, working with U.S. Secret Service bringing Nazis to trial, and a new life in America.
That new life included moving to Greenville, Texas, where there was family. Just 21 years old when liberated, Jack married Esther (later known as Edna), of blessed memory, whom he met in a displaced persons’ camp. Together they created a family: children Lotty (Peter) Casillas, David (Bobbie), and Stan (Marsha); four grandchildren; and his first great-grandchild, due soon.
“My parents gave us a nurturing life, very much ‘that was then, this is now.’ They wanted the rest of life to be wonderful and it was. Mom never spoke about the war and only after she died did Dad open up. What mattered was we make the most of every day,” said Lotty, born in Germany a year before her parents emigrated, her brothers native Texans. “His sharing has given new purpose to his life.”
Repp, who recently signed books at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, will speak at Dallas’ Jan. 7 Intrafaith Sisterhood Shabbat. However, he didn’t always volunteer. Only at the prompting of his dear friend Sarah Yarrin did he find that passion.
“Jack isn’t just a survivor of the camps, he’s a survivor of business and life,” said Yarrin, who coordinates his engagements. “Dan’s perseverance is a gift. They’ve created something that will last and be important for generations.”
After delivering the book, Lewin won’t ever forget watching Repp go through the pages of his life, clearly touched, reflective, and present in its pages — incredibly moving moments.
“Danny recorded and chipped away at memories of 50 or 60 years and now here’s a book. It’s something,” said Repp.
“I’m not educated but I can recall 70 years ago like this morning — my marbles are working. At 94 years young, I don’t want to get old.”
Living lessons from his father, Repp says that God gives us our days, and you can be miserable, happy or sad. “Every day can be good but how it turns out largely depends on your mindset,” reflects Repp, recalling the boy he was as Itzik Rzepkowicz in Radom, Poland, and the man who survived as husband, father, and for many years the owner of a Dallas dry goods store, now living the next chapter in his life to its fullest.
“If someone is hungry, feed them. If someone’s thirsty, give them a drink; if they’re cold, give them clothing,” he shares. “It’s up to you how you live.”
To order a copy of Dreams & Jealousy, visit amzn.to/2isB6fy.