Preserving the stories of Holocaust survivors
Friday November 20 2009 Rob Huberman runs ComteQ Publishing in Margate

Like any good businessman, Rob Huberman is looking to the future, making plans to deal with changes he sees developing on the horizon.

But Huberman's business is unique. The owner of a Margate-based publishing house, Huberman specializes in publishing the memoirs of Holocaust survivors.

His business ComteQ Media Group has published more than 30 of the memoirs - ranging from concentration-camp stories to tales of young Jews sheltered by Christian families.

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Huberman also spends a lot of his time helping bring the authors to classrooms around the state, so students can hear their stories firsthand.

"(The survivors) were about 7 to 17 at the time of the war, so students can really identify with them," the Margate man said. "What's unfortunate is that there are only about 10 good years left where these survivors will be able to get into the classrooms and share their stories."

So Huberman is making plans to make video recordings of the survivors telling their tales. The stories will still be shown in classrooms long after the last survivors are too frail to make the trip to school, the publisher said.

"I was invited to an event where students spent time with survivors. One girl got up and said, 'It's easy to learn about history when it is standing right in front of you,'" Huberman said. "It became a cornerstone of my thinking."

Huberman didn't set out to be the man responsible for teaching New Jersey students about the Holocaust - it just happened.

The 57-year-old father of two started ComteQ in 1978. In June 2001, he left his job as managing editor of the weekly Jewish Times of South Jersey and focused on the multimedia company full time.

At the time, he envisioned ComteQ's publishing arm would work like a traditional publishing house - with Huberman finding books he liked, publishing them and reaping the financial rewards.

Huberman had already had some successes with ComteQ. He became friendly with Jack Engelhard, reprinting the author's "Indecent Proposal" and also publishing "Escape from Mount Moriah: Memoirs of a Refugee Child's Triumph." The latter book tells how Engelhard's family fled the Nazi invasion of France and wound up as refugees in Canada.

But three months after committing himself full time to the company, Huberman was in deep trouble.

"Things were really taking off, but then 9/11 hit. Nobody was interested in my kind of stuff anymore. It pretty much nearly sank me," Huberman said.

Knowing that things had to change, he transformed ComteQ Publishing into a subsidy publisher or vanity press - where authors pay to have their books printed.

With his connections in the Jewish community, among the authors Huberman found himself working with were Holocaust survivors looking to tell their stories.

He published one survivor's story, then another and then another. The more books he produced, the more survivors came forward looking to share their tales.

With New Jersey mandating lessons on the Holocaust and other genocides be taught in schools, Huberman found an audience for the books he was producing.

"The next thing I knew I was working with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education and the Holocaust Resource Center (at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey)," Huberman said. "The goal over the years has been to see how to focus some of these books for use in the classroom."

With most of his authors coming from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, it has been easy for the publisher to help arrange classroom visits.

Some authors make only a few visits. Others, such as Fred Spiegel, author of "Once the Acacias Bloomed," will make as many as five classroom appearances a week.

One of the people Huberman works closely with is Leo Lieberman, a professor of Holocaust and Jewish studies at Stockton. Lieberman worked for Huberman as a columnist at the Jewish Times. One of the first books ComteQ published was Lieberman's "Memories of Laughter and Garlic."

The 80-year-old professor said Huberman's work has been so successful because he is preserving a part of Holocaust history often overlooked by other publishers and authors.

"Many of the books that deal with the Holocaust have been histories and factual material - numbers and dates and that kind of thing," Lieberman said. "Young people will soon forget dates and numbers, but they will not forget the personal stories that are related to this situation."

Huberman understands the power of first-person stories on a gut level, Lieberman said.

"When I first met Rob 14 years ago, one of his big ideas at the time was to record family histories," said Lieberman, of Margate. Lieberman is helping Huberman utilize the techniques he used to capture family stories to now preserve the spoken stories of the Holocaust survivors.

And while helping the Holocaust survivors tell their stories has proven to be good business for ComteQ - Huberman says the company has sold more than 10,000 books - it's not business that is motivating the man, Lieberman said.

Working with the Holocaust survivors was "like igniting a fire" in Huberman, his friend said.

"He suddenly became fascinated by it. He has put a tremendous amount of energy into this," Lieberman said.

While the Holocaust memoirs make up much of Huberman's business, ComteQ publishes books on other subjects as well.

One recent project, "A Dream, A Journey, A Community: A Nostalgic Look at Jewish Businesses in and Around Atlantic City " recently won the 2009 general history category in USABookNews.com's Best Book Awards contest.

Still, Huberman admits his experience working with the survivors has touched him on a level that goes beyond the professional satisfaction of finding success.

"I feel that I'm contributing something very worthwhile while also being able to give something back to these individuals who withstood so much hardship and terror. It makes me feel good on a personal level," Huberman said.

Contact Steven V. Cronin:

609-272-7242

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