The Kleinmann Family Foundation
Twelfth Annual Cégep Holocaust Symposium

William H. Donat

WIlliam Donat: Then & Now
Click for a larger version.
William Donat was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1937. He was one-and-a-half years old when Germany invaded and World War II began. Shortly thereafter the occupation started. For the next three years he and his parents were confined to the Ghetto established by the Germans for all Jews living in Warsaw. He is one of a handful of young children from the Warsaw Ghetto to have survived.

In 1943, when he was five years old, he was smuggled out of the Ghetto and given to brave Christian friends of his parents; but he was soon betrayed to the local police who worked closely with the Gestapo. He then had to spend the remainder of the war in a Catholic orphanage. After living through the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, his parents were rounded up by SS troops and sent to Majdanek where they were separated. They spent the next two years apart, each not knowing what had become of the other. They were in such notorious concentration camps as Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, Neustad Glewe, Radom, Vaihingen and Dachau. Miraculously, they both survived and immediately after their liberation, they both returned to Warsaw, were reunited, and found their child, who had been sheltered by the Sisters at the orphanage.

The family immigrated to America in 1946. Bill grew up in New York City where he attended public schools and graduated from the Bronx H.S. of Science in 1956. He attended Colgate University, and spent his junior year studying at the University of Paris. He received a BA from Colgate in French language and literature in 1960. After graduation he was married and spent eighteen months on active duty in the US Army. He received a direct appointment as a Lieutenant in Military Intelligence and subsequently served with the Army Reserve.

He spent his professional career in book publishing and in the graphic arts, while simultaneously devoting much of his time working first as Editor, and then as the Chairman, of the non-profit Holocaust Publications, Inc., which, during his custodianship, published fifty-six books about the Nazi persecution of the Jews of Europe. He served as a member of the Editorial Committee of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and is an active speaker for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and the Westchester Holocaust Education Commission. He is a member of the Board of "Thanks to Scandinavia", an Institute of the American Jewish Committee. He also serves as co-chair of the Annual Yom HaShoa Commemoration sponsored by WAGRO and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

He frequently lectures about his childhood experiences in Poland, on interfaith tolerance, and about twentieth-century immigration to New York City, including his own arrival as a refugee child to the United States in 1946. He speaks at temples and churches, to interfaith groups and to college and high school classes studying the Holocaust.

A few years ago he participated in editing the new publication of his father's classic memoir of their family's wartime experiences. This edition of Alexander Donat's The Holocaust Kingdom was released in 1999 and Bill subsequently participated in a series of nation-wide fundraising events as the keynote speaker for the publisher, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Last year he taught two adult education courses, one at Iona College in New Rochelle, and the other at Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains. He lectured about the origins of anti-Semitism, its development in Europe during the Middle Ages, and the history leading up to, and including, the years of the Holocaust. His lectures were interspersed with poignant recollections of his childhood experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto, in the Catholic orphanage and his parents' two years in concentration camps.