Attention to detail distinguishes Alter Wiener’s ‘From a Name to a Number’
By Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett

Alter Wiener was 15 years old when the Nazis took him. In the time it took for the soldiers to drag him away over his stepmother’s protests, any chance of serene, dreamless sleep disappeared.

For the next six decades, Wiener’s dreams, and many of his waking hours, would be invaded by images of his father, shot and thrown into a pit; of the filthy bunks in Blechammer, the German labor camp where he was taken from his boyhood home in Chrzanow, Poland; of the suddenly recalled taste of prisoners’ bread made from flour and sawdust.

Some miracle of human spirit allowed Wiener to hold onto other thoughts as well: the German woman who sneaked food to him for 30 days in the factory; his realization on seeing the non-Jewish prisoners, also deemed untermentchen (subhuman) by their Nazi guards, that “This was not a mere manifestation of anti-Semitism; it was a manifestation of anti-humanism.” Wiener’s recently self-published memoir, “From a Name to a Number,” is an indefatigable revisiting of his years during the Holocaust, compiled some six decades later by the Portland author, now 81. He traces a journey from Poland through Germany, Austria, Italy, Israel, New York and finally, Oregon.