Former U prof. and Holocaust survivor discusses book

Robert Fisch’s fourth book is a collection of short stories that retell his life, from his childhood in Hungary, his time in concentration camps, the Hungarian Revolution and his move to America.

Danielle Nordine

Robert Fisch, a former University of Minnesota professor, has a life worth retelling. In his most recent book, he describes his experiences by saying, âÄúI have been a Jew during Fascism, a bourgeois under Communism, a rebel defeated in an uprising, a refugee among the free and a have-not amid plenty.âÄù On Thursday, Fisch spoke at the University of Minnesota Bookstore about life lessons and his new book. âÄúFisch Stories,âÄù FischâÄôs fourth book, is a collection of short stories that retell his life, from his childhood in Hungary, his time in concentration camps, the Hungarian Revolution and his move to America. The book centers around what Fisch calls his six guiding values in life: compassion, equal treatment, children, humor, suffering and remaining humane even in inhumane circumstances. Talking about the Holocaust wasnâÄôt something that always came easily to Fisch, and he said he would still like to forget the events and focus on the present. âÄúI didnâÄôt like to talk about the Holocaust,âÄù Fisch said. âÄúItâÄôs like being sick. You donâÄôt talk about it unless someone asks you.âÄù However, the response he got from his first public speech about his experiences, in front of seven people in Pine City, Minn., encouraged him to write and illustrate his first book, âÄúLight from the Yellow Star: A Lesson of Love from the Holocaust.âÄù Fisch was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, and was 19 years old when he was taken to a concentration camp in 1944. In 1957, Fisch came to America and worked as a medical intern, eventually becoming a professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota in 1979, where he worked until 1997. Fisch became well known and respected for his research on phenylketonuria, a genetic disorder that can lead to mental retardation. He is also an award-winning artist who has displayed his works in exhibits at the Weisman Art Museum and has illustrated his own books. Art started as a hobby for Fisch, he said, something to do for fun. Fisch said he considers fun a guiding principle of life. âÄúYou canâÄôt save the world. ItâÄôs unsavable anyway,âÄù he said. âÄúThe only thing you can control is yourself, so you should have fun in everything you do.âÄù In his art as well as his books, Fisch emphasizes what he has learned from his experiences rather than focusing on providing a history. âÄúSuffering is part of life. ItâÄôs what you can do with that is whatâÄôs important,âÄù he said. During ThursdayâÄôs event, Fisch read excerpts from his new book and explained his artwork, which is generally simplistic and often in black-and-white. Milena Sivertson, an assistant scientist at the University, said she had seen FischâÄôs artwork a few years ago in an exhibit and came to hear him speak on Thursday because she wanted to find out more about his background. âÄúHe just has so much compassion,âÄù she said. âÄúThis was everything I needed to hear.âÄù A podcast of ThursdayâÄôs event will be available on the BookstoreâÄôs Web site in about a week, said Terry Labandz, trade books manager. Despite all the suffering Fisch has seen and experienced, he said he prefers to focus on learning and moving forward. âÄúMy purpose is not to talk about the Holocaust and what happened,âÄù Fisch said. âÄúItâÄôs not about remembering and reliving the past. That is a waste of time. It is to say what we can learn from it.âÄù