South Jersey Neighbors - Rob Huberman

Publisher Rob Huberman poses with books and items from his collection.

Rob Huberman's family was lucky: Most of them got out of Europe alive.

"Most," however, is a relative word.

"Almost all of my grandmother's family perished," Huberman said. "She and her sister got out."

Huberman's journey to being one of the premier publishers of Holocaust memoirs is a circuitous one: mechanical buff as a kid, A/V club member, media producer, newspaper founder and then - thanks to happenstance, almost - creator of ComteQ Publishing, which has put out dozens of personal, searing stories of survival.

And his office in Margate - full of books, tape reels and posters - is a testament to both his interests and the path he has taken.

Huberman, 60, of Margate, always was interested in machines and gadgets. "I like devices," he said, "any kind of device."

As a kid, "my hobbies were in model-building and electronics," he said. "I always had a cigar box filled with switches, wires, batteries and lights. In the sixth grade, I wired up my bedroom and had a radio, TV and record player attached to speakers. I could throw a switch and turn any device on and (connect it) to any speaker or all of them. To this day, people who saw that think it was one of the coolest things they've ever seen."

So it was only natural he gravitated to the A/V club at Atlantic City High School - which, after starting up one of the first high school television stations in the country, led to his becoming club president and producing its own shows.

Huberman has an office filled with machines, such as the TEAC A-2300s, with its massive wheels to spin tapes, as well as open-reel tapes, cassette tapes and videocassettes of his work and others, dating to his days when he and others would run tapes to the Head End in Ventnor - "a shack behind Shalom House" - or to the station at the top of Haddon Hall.

"It took two of us to carry it around, it was so big and heavy," he said of the tapes. "But when my name came up on TV, I was almost as excited as if it was on NBC."

He left for American University in Washington, D.C., in 1970 - though he returned in summers to be the cameraman for "Pinky's Corner Poolside," Pinky Kravitz's TV show, "a very early local program, way before local cable access."

"He was one of our top cameramen," said Kravitz, who recalled Huberman shooting his show at the Holiday Inn and Shelburne pools. "In that era, there wasn't really any real adults that did it around here. ... Rob was one of those who learned how to use cameras in the high school program. One of those youngsters, the son of the superintendent, became one of the big cameramen at NBC. Rob was in that group, and he did a great job."

Huberman stayed in D.C. for 18 years, working at the A/V department at George Washington University and on independent media projects, including an Indian Heritage Festival in 1981, bringing together Wayne Newton and Native Americans on horseback for Ronald Reagan's first presidential inauguration.

But after returning home to work in his family's distribution business, the drive for "creative satisfaction" remained.

"And lo and behold," he said, "I found myself in print - quite by surprise."

In 1996, he helped develop a new newspaper, the Jewish Times of South Jersey. It was about then that he decided to publish a book by Richard Stockton College professor Leo Lieberman, one of the Times' columnists.

"I was the first one he published," Lieberman said. "We started off at the newspaper, and he wanted me to do a weekly column for him called 'Chalk Dust.' ... Then after the first year, we were chatting and he said a lot of people indicated they'd like to see the column in book form."

The result was "Memories of Laughter and Garlic: Jewish Wit, Wisdom, & Humor to Warm Your Heart," published in 1999.

"So I got a taste of book publishing," Huberman said.

In 2001, he left the paper and started ComteQ Publishing, "under the impression that all I had to do was go out and sign an author and I'd be a big publisher," he joked.

But "Indecent Proposal" author Jack Engelhard happened to be a Jewish Times subscriber - and soon ComteQ published its second book, a memoir of the Holocaust entitled "Escape from Mount Moriah" by Engelhard.

"By no intention, I became specialized in producing Holocaust memoirs," Huberman said.

Working with Stockton's Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center and specializing in self-publishing by local authors, "I've produced 45 Holocaust-related titles so far," he said. "I've had some really wonderful experiences from working with some Holocaust survivors. Our real goal is to try and preserve as much of their stories as possible."

Maryann McLoughlin, assistant supervisor of the Schoffer center, edited many of ComteQ's books on or about the Holocaust.

"When we started working with Holocaust survivors and we were trying to find a publisher, Leo (Lieberman) suggested Rob, and we started working with him," she said. "He has published most of our Holocaust memoirs, and we've done over 40 of them. The authors are very happy with the product. ... We're very happy that we have someone like that to work with."

Tackling the subject "has given me a much greater sense of the consequences of the Holocaust on a number of different fronts," Huberman said. "One is that I've had a chance to really have some very intimate, personal details told to me directly by these people. It's very moving and oftentimes nothing short of miraculous why some live and some perished."

Another thing he's learned, he said, "is to try and reconcile the childhood conditions of people with their present-day personas. It's really quite astounding how vibrant and dynamic someone can be after the horrors experienced in childhood. And on the other hand, other individuals barely speak about their experiences, and you can see the scars left behind. It's fascinating to see both sides of the coin."

Local history makes up a huge part of his company's output - and his vast collection.

His latest project is a book by local attorney Frank Ferry on notorious Atlantic City kingpin Nucky Johnson, "Nucky: The Real Story of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Boss."

A book published in 2009, "A Dream, A Journey, A Community," about Jewish businesses in and around Atlantic City, "piqued the interest I already had in Atlantic City stuff," he said. "So I started looking around."

Next to bookshelves filled with ComteQ offerings is a painted glass bottle from the 1952 Miss America Pageant, a miniature silver shoe for pins and needles, medallions and ribbons, a 1932 tourist guide featuring Rudy Valee - plus, befitting his Margate location, numerous Lucy the Elephant items.

Several walls are covered with vintage posters of Atlantic City or sheet music covers of Atlantic City-themed songs - he has a specific search on eBay - that include "The Atlantic City Polka," "Take Me to Atlantic City," "Why Don't You Try, or The Rolling Chair Song" and "James! Send Some Taffy Home Today."

"I would describe myself as a collector/archivist," Huberman said, adding jokingly, "I say that to people who say I'm hoarding."

One strange-looking circular contraption is, in fact, an old railroad relay, which was used to switch trains onto different tracks in the days before electricity.

Next to it are guided missile heads, practice artillery rounds and the head of a rocket-propelled grenade. He held up a huge movie set light - "Unused as far as I know," he said - while adjacent rooms featured a tableside jukebox song selector, an antique gas-tank nozzle, a mysterious device that may have been used for generating a receipt and assorted "eye candy," such as old binoculars, magnets, metal salt shakers, "Seashore Bottled Water" and a fascinating single-edge razor blade sharpener from the 1920s that flips over by turning a crank.

One find picked up at a Margate yard sale was mounted on the wall - "How often do you come across a whale harpoon?" he asked - next to a commemorative lamp from the Soviet Union marking Yuri Gagarin's first space flight.

So, after decades of videos and productions and books, Huberman is happy where he ended up, right back in his hometown - and with an important, if unexpected, mission.

"My real goal is to try to preserve as much of their stories as possible," he said of the survivors. We're reaching the point in the next 10 years or so where there will be few left. ... As one young teen who spent time with one (wrote), 'It's real easy to learn about history when it's been sitting right in front of you for years.'"

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