Author Alcove: Ralph Webster on Family, Refugees, and the Holocaust


I’m pleased to welcome Ralph Webster to the blog today for my very first author interview! Ralph is the author of A Smile in One Eye, A Tear in the Other.

Hi Ralph, thanks for taking part in this interview! Tell us about your book… what it’s about, and what inspired you to write it.

Thank you Betty.

Last year my wife and I spent 8 weeks in Europe.  This was a pleasure trip.  We were doing lots of hiking and biking.  Our trip took us from Croatia to Sweden and all parts in-between.  We often traveled by train.  This was at the time the international news was flooded with images of the refugee crisis.

Thousands upon thousands were fleeing – primarily from  Syria.  Most were headed to Germany in search of employment and opportunity.  Countries in the EU were struggling with border issues.   We saw this firsthand on trains and at train stations.  We watched the police remove people from trains.  We saw no danger.  All the interactions were civil.  We saw no disturbance – just a silent procession of people trying to find a new life.  We watched people trying to communicate through the medium of different languages.  We saw mothers, fathers, children, and groups of young men.  This was right before our eyes.

I have a great compassion for those forced to leave their homelands and this is a story that history keeps repeating.  The world continues to be confronted with issues of ethnic cleansing, immigration and how to cope with the influx of refugees.  How can it be, in this day and age, that people are forced to leave the homes of their mothers and fathers through no fault of their own? Imagine what it would be like if you found yourself in this situation.

My father’s family lived that story – only in a different era – during the years preceding World War II and during the Holocaust.  That’s what my book is about.

I wanted to convey that sense of helplessness – what it is like to be hated – what it is like to have to run for your life – what it is like to leave the country where your family has always lived – what it is like to leave family behind – what it is like to be totally disconnected and not know who has survived and who has not – what it is like to try to survive in a place with a different language and culture.  And, I wanted to convey that sense of determination, of going forward with one’s life, and of keeping one’s perspective and outlook.

In today’s era of terror and violence, I believe we too often forget that the refugees of the world are not the enemy.  These are the victims.  They are the innocent.  They are the bystanders.  These are people like you and me – and they are leaving with only the clothes on their backs – and often, with their loved ones left behind.

My father’s journey took place 75 years ago.  Yet, the parallels with today’s world are clear.  We need to learn from this story.  That is what inspired me.

How long did it take to write, and what was your writing process?

Great questions.  Whenever someone asks me how long it took to write it, my answer is simple – 65 years.  Putting it to paper took only a few months.  Learning the story and thinking about it took a lifetime.

My father was a very quiet man.  He was far more interested in today than yesterday.  He rarely talked about his journey and he certainly never felt sorry for himself.  If asked a question he would answer.  But, growing up I never knew the questions to ask.  And, like most of us, I was far more interested in my life than my parent’s life.  That’s what my parents wanted too.  They always wanted me to look forward and not back.  So, while I knew the broad outlines of his story, I knew few of the details.  I had never thought about the depth of the emotions.  For me, writing this story was like taking an old black and white photo and transforming into a modern video.  I had to bring it to life.  I had to get into my father’s head and see the world through his eyes.  Throughout the writing process that is what I tried to do.  I had to imagine what he and others felt.  I wanted readers to feel like they were part of my family.

What resources did you use in writing your book? (e.g. documents, diaries, stories passed down through the family, etc.)

When I began I thought I was putting a coffee table book together for my immediate family – something for my grandchildren – something that would replace and simplify the clutter of old stuff that we all tend to collect.  I thought I would take old pictures, make a few notations, and organize everything.  Somehow during the process my project morphed into the book that it became.  The final result does not contain a single photo.

I suppose I did what most do when writing a memoir or biography.  I constructed the timeline and filled in the blanks.  In this case there were a considerable number of blanks and since the story took place many years ago there were many dots to connect.  I relied upon old photos, researched from one end of the internet and back, consulted with various family members, corresponded with various archives and historic research organizations.  Those who read the book often comment that it reads more like a historical novel than a memoir or a biography.

How did you come up with the title?

The title?  It is a variation of an expression that my mother once used.  She would say that life always finds the balance between a smile in one eye and a tear in the other.  In 1914 Kahlil Gibran wrote a collection of parables, stories, and poems titled A Tear and A Smile.  I am pretty sure that is where she first found it.  For me, the title is a perfect fit.

Given the circumstances, writing about your family’s history must have been difficult, to say the least. Is there a particular passage that was harder to write than others?

There were many that were difficult to write and I really would rather not recite them here as they might give away too much of the story as I am sure you can understand.  Here is one passage.

“I was miserable.  I can’t find words to convey the extent of my misery.  I was fourteen years old.  I went to school.   All of my classmates were taught to hate me, to hate everything about me and my family.  My classmates were listening to their teachers.”

“Mela and Joanie often ask me to talk about these years.  I resist.  What more can I say?  I have nothing more to tell.  Who would want to keep and share these memories?”
As incredible as it is to believe, there are people out there who deny the Holocaust happened. If you could, what would you say to them?

Somewhere between 50 and 80 million people lost their lives during World War II – about 3% of the world’s population.  Nearly 20 million Russians died and 6 million Jews were murdered.  That is the history.  Denial will not change the facts.  Let us allow humanity to learn from this terrible man-made tragedy.

History has shown us that persecution based on solely on race or religion has been a constant, malevolent presence in the world. Why do think that is?

Many great minds have wrapped their heads around this question.  I am not sure that anyone has found the answer and certainly not me.  I do believe that we always need to remain vigilant and be mindful of the violence in civilization’s history.  We have to understand our history in order to change our future.

What was the most gratifying thing for you in having written this book?

There is so much to be grateful for.  But, if I would pick one thing it would be that it connects the generations. Writing a book like this is a medium that allows many things to be said, shared, and understood.

What is the message you hope readers take away from A Smile in One Eye, A Tear in the Other?

Hope, joy, and perseverance.  Go forward one step at a time.  Sometimes, no matter what,  fate will take you to where you are going.

Are you planning to write another book? If so, what it will be about?

I think I am a one and done kind of guy.  I never imagined myself as a writer and this has been quite the journey.  Maybe I will go back to walking the beach with my metal detector looking for lost  treasure.  Or, perhaps my wife and I will get a van, drive around, and meet with book clubs.  She says that, given my ego, I would probably put a sign on the door that says “Author inside – Honk if you want a signed copy!”

Ralph, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. It was a pleasure having you here. I wish you all the best with your book!

About the Book

A Smile in One Eye, A Tear in the Other

The Third Reich is rising. The creeping madness in the heart of Germany will soon stain the entire world. This is the chilling account of one family as they flee for their lives.

The Wobsers are prosperous, churchgoing, patriotic Germans living in a small East Prussian town. When Hitler seizes power, their comfortable family life is destroyed by a horrifying Nazi regime. Baptized and confirmed as Lutherans, they are told they are Jewish, a past always respected but rarely considered. This distinction makes a life-and-death difference. Suddenly, it is no longer a matter of faith or religion; their lives are defined by race. It is a matter of bloodlines. And, in Nazi Germany, they have the wrong blood.

Written by a second generation Holocaust survivor, this is a compelling refugee story laced with contemporary overtones.

In addition to serving as a fascinating piece of history, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other is a passionate call to arms for organizations and individuals to properly protect and help the world’s refugees.

About the Author

Ralph Webster is retired and lives with his wife Ginger in the United States on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  An enthusiastic world traveler, he is the son of immigrant parents; refugees who were forced to leave their homelands and families for reasons that defy comprehension.  This is his first book.

It’s Giveaway Time!

A Smile in One Eye, A Tear in the Other audiobook by Ralph WebsterWould you like to win an audiobook of A Smile in One Eye, A Tear in the Other? Here’s your chance! Ralph has generously offered not one, but THREE audiobooks for this surprise giveaway! Here are the details:

The giveaway is open ONLY in the following countries:

UK and United States.

Giveaway begins at 12:00 am CST on December 12, 2016 and ends at 12:00 am CST on December 17, 2016.

Winners will be notified via email.

Winners will be announced on The Geeky Bibliophile blog and associated social media pages (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) at 10:00 AM CST on December 17th, 2016.

Delivery of prizes will be handled by the author (Ralph Webster).

Enter to Win an Audiobook of A Smile in One Eye, A Tear in the Other by Ralph Webster!


5 thoughts on “Author Alcove: Ralph Webster on Family, Refugees, and the Holocaust

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