WATERVILLE — In 1962, David Solmitz arrived home from Harvard Summer School and found his father dead.

The Bowdoin College philosophy professor had taken sleeping pills and slit his wrists in the bathtub.

Solmitz said his father, Walter, had suffered from survivor guilt and depression after his 1938 incarceration at Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Solmitz said while he was growing up, his father didn’t talk about his experiences at Dachau and he didn’t ask.

As Solmitz approached 60, however, the retired high school history teacher said he wanted to know more about his family. He traveled, researched, interviewed his dying mother and transcribed his father’s careful account of life at Dachau.

The result is the memoir “Piecing Scattered Souls: Maine, Germany, Mexico, China, and Beyond.” Solmitz will read from the book and sign copies today at 6:30 p.m. at Waterville Public Library.

“I hope (readers) will see that our world is completely interconnected,” Solmitz said. “We have a great need to appreciate and accept one another for who we are and appreciate our differences and see we’re all alike. We’re all human beings.”

Making and understanding connections is critical to gaining perspective, Solmitz said, and doing so will make the world better for the next generations.

On the page before the opening chapter, Solmitz selected a quote by Edward Hallet Carr: “The dual and reciprocal function of history is to promote our understanding of the past in the light of the present and of the present in light of the past.”

If we fail to make connections, learn lessons and take action, Solmitz said, then atrocities can occur. The Holocaust, he said, started gradually, and there were many red flags.

Red flags exist in the world today, too, Solmitz said. One example is the government’s attempts to quiet the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spread to about 100 cities in the United States, he said.

People have a right to protest peacefully, Solmitz said, and police should protect people’s right to express themselves, not pepper-spray them.

Solmitz said when his father was arrested Nov. 10, 1938, in Munich, he correctly predicted that things would get worse.

Walter Solmitz detailed that he and the 200 others in his barracks were awakened day after day at 4:45 a.m. to face hours of degradation, threats, chores, roll calls and marching. Many collapsed and suffered from frostbite. Punishment, he wrote, consisted of isolation in darkness, being hung upside down from a tree for several hours and being struck with a cane.

Walter Solmitz believed that six men in his barracks died during his six-week imprisonment. Walter Solmitz was released Dec. 21, 1938.

Walter and his wife, Elly, who was instrumental in freeing her husband, made their way to the United States and eventually to Brunswick.

At Bowdoin College, Walter Solmitz was becoming a treasured professor. In Europe, by 1945, Nazis had murdered 6 million Jews.

Before succumbing to his depression in 1962, Walter Solmitz wrote a final letter to his son:

“What I may do seems necessary although it is deeply wrong — towards myself, towards you, towards Mummy. … Teaching philosophy was perhaps a little too much for me. You may do simpler things, and you will do them decently. You know, you are a good boy. In spite of what I have done, you will have and give joy.”

In 1962, Fritz Koelln, a colleague and friend, spoke at Walter Solmitz’s memorial service.

“There was a a quality in him which showed itself at the end of his life sometimes to an unbearable degree: He felt the suffering of other people as his own suffering,” Koelln said. “If this contributed greatly to his final total exhaustion, we must also remember that it was also the root of the great effect his deep personal concerns had on so many lives of his students and his friends.”

While researching his family’s past, Solmitz learned about himself and his place in the world.

“This book is a story about journeys, connections, and healing,” Solmitz wrote in the preface. “Guided by the wisdom of those who came before, the bonds they made, and the understandings they fostered, I intimately offer my insight of a continually evolving community through life, death and rebirth.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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