I’m pleased to share my interview with David Tabatsky about his YA book, THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR: HOW SALOMON KOOL ESCAPED THE NAZIS (Amsterdam Publishers, 2022). It tells the story of a teen named Salomon Kool, who survives against all odds. David had the opportunity to work directly with Salomon to share his harrowing experiences with today’s readers. Every survivor’s story is unique and I was interested to learn about David’s relationship with Sal and his process for telling Sal’s story.
THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR shares the account of Sal, a young boy who struggles for survival during WWII. How did working with Sal to tell his story impact you personally?
Spending a week with Sal and his wife, Nettie, in Amsterdam, was deeply meaningful then and still is now. Of course, it was informative, as he showed me what remained of the city of his childhood, from his old neighborhood to the school and zoo and theatre he frequented. It wasn’t difficult to put myself in his place, and through his memories and my own imagination, I felt the intense fear and alienation of his experience, and as a Jew who grew up in a distant shadow of the Holocaust, my connection to Sal and the commitment to writing the book will stick with me always.
You have written and edited a wide variety of books. What drew you to write Sal’s story?
Sal’s American friend, Sandy Batkin, who lived near New York City, my home, asked me to do it. He and Sal had met by chance in the 1960s during a vacation in Aruba, and over the years Sandy kept nudging Sal to write a book. Sal, somewhat shy, was reluctant, and had no idea how to do it, so that’s where I became involved. Again, as a Jew who first encountered Holocaust history at an early age, I felt compelled to tell this story.
Were there any interesting facts or stories that did not make it into the final book?
Nothing I can recall, because Sal’s memories were limited in certain respects, and some of them may have been too painful for him to fully share. Then again, he did say several times that he was telling me some things for the very first time, details his family didn’t even know.
What do you hope young readers take away from Sal’s life experience?
I hope young readers, especially boys, will initially relate to Sal and his life as a 12-year-old who just wants to hang out with his brothers and friends, ride bikes, eat ice cream and do normal stuff. It’s important that this connection, and the idea that this could happen anywhere to anybody, takes hold, so that the prospect of something like it happening to them is palpable and feels even remotely possible. When this realization takes hold, and the suspense and fear build, then perhaps a lesson will be learned, that the unthinkable IS thinkable and must never be allowed to happen again.
Thank you, David.
David is a writer, editor, and performing artist, based in New York City. His memoir, American Misfit, was released in 2017. He is the co-author of several books about cancer, including Rx for Hope, Reimagining Women’s Cancers and Reimagining Men’s Cancers, The Cancer Book: 101 Stories of Courage, Support and Love and the author of Write for Life: Communicating Your Way Through Cancer. He coauthored The Intelligent Divorce, The Wright Choice: Your Family’s Guide to Healthy Eating, Modern Fitness and Saving Money, and was consulting editor for Marlo Thomas and her New York Times bestseller The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2: Your Turn. David has performed as an actor, clown and juggler, at Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theatre and throughout the United States and Europe, most notably at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where THE STAGE wrote, “He is a supremely skillful performer and fine actor, reaching levels no other comics have matched at this Fringe.”