FAIR LAWN, N.J. — Iris Dorbian made her way to the bathroom in her parents’ Fair Lawn home at 2 a.m. and noticed the light in the spare bedroom was still on, and her father, Hirsch Dorbian, was still awake.
He’d been liberated from Nazi Germany almost six decades earlier, but distant painful memories continued to haunt him, even in his sleep.
They kept him up almost every night.
After watching him struggle silently for years, Iris is paying homage to her father and other Holocaust survivors in her recently published novel, “An Epiphany in Lilacs: In The Aftermath Of The Camps.”
“We need to keep reminding people of what happened, and how hatred can just be used to destroy a group of people,” Dorbian said.
To invoke that ‘never again’ cliche and constantly be hammering home these stories.
"Epiphany In Lilacs" is a young adult novel set in a displaced persons camp in Germany following World War II.
The main character is a 14-year-old Latvian Jew named Daniel, loosely based on her father. Much of the story was inspired by her father's post-liberation experiences, but much has been fictionalized for dramatic purposes, Dorbian said.
The book is a long-form version of what Dorbian first started writing 20 years ago. That's when her father told her a story about a friendship he formed with a German Gentile in the hospital, post-liberation.
At the time, she was a New York City actress looking to write a monologue — or anything for the stage.
Struck by her father’s memories, Dorbian figured, This would make excellent material for an older actor.
That initial monologue didn’t quite work out the way she'd hoped, but after publishing a short story on the same topic in an online Jewish literary journal in 2015, the author took another crack at what later became “An Epiphany In Lilacs.”
Its plot takes place following Hirsch Dorbian's May 1945 liberation from the concentration camps.
When he was 11 years old, he and his family were arrested and separated.
He spent the six months following his liberation in a displaced persons camp, just outside Hamburg, Germany, and formed a friendship with a German Gentile while in the hospital.
The surprising friendship gave him the courage he needed to move on.
After reuniting with his mother, sister and brother-in-law, Hirsch moved to Paterson in August 1949 at 18 years old. He met his wife, Esther, in March 1956 while in Israel and the couple married that July.
Esther followed him to Paterson the following year.
“A lot of people don’t know how survivors like my dad were able to get on with their lives,” the author said. “They are still so deeply traumatized by what happened.”
Though her father had been free for most of his life, Dorbian says he felt trapped until the day he died six years ago.
She hopes her novel will help shed light on the lesser-known struggles of survivors.
“There is a significant gap in knowledge on the period following the liberation,” Dorbian said, “and I wanted to fill it with this story.”