My phone rang one morning in 2013 and the rest, as they say, is history. My old friend Devi-deva was calling with a question.
“Have you heard of a singer named Sir Ivan?” he asked. “He recorded a dance version of the Hare Krishna mantra. Then he produced a video of it with location shoots and actors and dancers—it’s on YouTube. Take a look.”
The notion of the Hare Krishna mantra, the most revered of all spiritual chants in Kali Yuga, transformed into a disco soundtrack with drum machines and dry-ice smoke had me concerned.
“It seems you two might have another connection,” Devi-deva said. “Sir Ivan is the son of a Holocaust survivor. Maybe you two should meet.”
Devi-deva knew I’d been in Holocaust studies for many years, but he couldn’t have known that immersion in the horrors of that dark time had taken its toll. After completing a survivor biography earlier that year, I’d begun stumbling around our house in a serious depression. “You need to find something else to write about,” my wife Esther wisely counseled.
The suggestion prompted me to pen a biography of the late music artist George Harrison. In the late 1960s George met Srila Prabhupada and began chanting Hare Krishna, and a half-century later interest in George’s spiritual life was stronger than ever. Here Comes the Sun was released in 2006 and sold enough copies for me to feel relieved that sad days writing about the Holocaust were finally over. Still, Dave had tweaked my curiosity, so I went online and found Sir Ivan’s Hare Krishna video. It was an elaborate production, professionally shot and recorded. A little more searching turned up Sir Ivan’s office phone number.
“Why did you decide to record that particular mantra?” I asked him.
“I remembered seeing Krishna devotees everywhere in the Sixties,” he said, “with their bright saffron robes and shaved heads—long before being bald became trendy and fashionable. I’d always found them to be gentle and kind. I liked the mantra and thought it would translate well into a pop-dance record if I just upped the beat a little.”
Sir Ivan's rendition of the Hare Krishna Mantra
Ivan’s musical experiment fit the subject of a class I was teaching at Hofstra University on modernity and religion, so I invited him to speak to my students. We discussed books I’d written about the Holocaust and he asked me to send him samples A few weeks later, he called back.
“You should write my father’s biography,” he said. “He was a Holocaust survivor who…”
“Thanks,” I said, interrupting, “but I’m finished with the Holocaust. I’m not the person…”
“Yes, you are!” he insisted.
“Ivan, I’m flattered, but no more darkness. I’m focusing on the light…”
“Are you kidding?” he said. “My father WAS the light. HE WAS A WALKING TORCH!! A ball of fire with more energy than the sun! A light unto the nations! A ray of hope for all immigrants! Why do you think my music video brought you to me? THIS IS KARMA!!”
I would come to learn that Ivan had inherited his late father’s penchant for energetic proclamations, and his enthusiasm for getting his father’s story published was infectious. I did some further research. Ivan had not exaggerated his father’s achievements.
Seven years later, Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig’s Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend appeared on the front cover of Publishers Weekly and was a lead title from the distributor Simon & Schuster.
The book's cover
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For more information about the book visit https://joshuamgreene.info/siggi/.
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