Noted author relates story of parents' survival during World War II

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Noted author relates story of parents' survival during World War II

March 18, 2017 - 19:02
Members of Spring Hill Central Rotary with author Roslyn Franken.  From left to right: Mike Fitzgerald, Roslyn Franken, Sandra Fitzgerald, Doug Brainard, Stephanie Chambers.

Roslyn Franken attributes her parents' survival to "bashert," the yiddish word meaning destiny. Franken says, "It was meant to be."

Vicktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, said “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

Roslyn Franken’s parents, John and Sonja, were stellar examples of this philosophy. Ms. Franken relates their amazing story of survival through the Nazi Holocaust and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in her book Meant to Be: A True Story of Might , Miracles and Triumph of the Human Spirit.

On March 2, Ms. Franken gave a talk about her book at the Rotary Club of Spring Hill Central’s weekly luncheon. She told a little about her parents’ story and explained how she came to write her book.

Franken’s parents were both Dutch but grew up on opposite sides of the world. Her mother, Sonja, and her whole family were rounded up by the Nazis when they invaded the Netherlands. The family was split up and sent to separate concentration camps. Sonja never saw her parents, brothers or oldest sister again. Sonja and her two remaining sisters survived, however.

In her book, Ms. Franken describes in detail the horrors her mother survived. Sonja’s perseverance was due to using her wits, her hopeful attitude, a few miracles and what Franken calls “bashert” – a Yiddish word meaning destiny or as she says, “It was meant to be.”

Franken’s father, John, grew up in Indonesia which was a Dutch colony at the time. At age eighteen he was drafted into the Dutch Navy Air Force. John was captured by the Japanese and became a prisoner of war. Forced into slave labor, he, too, survived unspeakable horrors. Again, it was his faith, wits, a “never give up” attitude and an amazing series of miracles, or what some might say “coincidences” that saved his life. John was working in a coal mine at the time the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Amazingly, he not only survived the bombing, but had no apparent effects from the radiation.

Roslyn describes one particularly poignant episode that took place during her father’s captivity. John and his fellow prisoners would keep each other’s spirits up by talking about willpower and trust in God.

“What amazes me is that regardless of their religious beliefs – my father was Jewish and others were Christian…and Muslim – they all shared the same sense of faith and trust in God that somehow they would get through…their captivity…They all got along and there was no hate toward each other because of their religious differences.”

The story of how her parents met, got married and settled in Canada is detailed in Ms. Franken’s book. Their lives continued to be a series of “basherts.”

Ms. Franken states, “My parents’ lives were an inspiration to me. Their examples taught me that you just keep going, no matter what life throws at you.”

Her parents both lived long productive lives. Her mother died at the age of seventy-seven, beating cancer five times and outliving the doctor’s predictions by twenty-one years. Her father lived to be ninety-four, after suffering a massive heart attack and surviving a quintuple bypass when he was only sixty-seven.

When Roslyn asked her father the secret to longevity he told her, “It’s about appreciating everything, every moment, everything you have and never give up.”

Ms. Franken has shared her story all over the United States and Canada. Her book was the subject of a documentary and is being adapted into a feature film.

She will return to Spring Hill for a more in depth lecture on April 24th at 7:30pm at Temple Beth David, 13158 Antelope St, Spring Hill, FL.

You can contact Roslyn Franken for more information or to schedule a speaking engagement at

The Rotary Club of Spring Hill Central is a service organization that meets every Thursday at 12:15. The club helps support several local non-profit organizations such as People Helping People, Crescent Community Clinic and Lighthouse for the Blind. For more information on the organization visit