In 2011, The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue from Nazi Germany (The History Press
was published, and at many of my book talks, people urged me to write a narrative account for young adults. This I did by writing an entirely new book, Escape To Virginia: From Nazi Germany to Thalhimer’s Farm. The book is creative history; it is all true, but it reads like fiction. In it, I trace the rescued lives of two teenage Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Hopefully, not only for our young people, but for all of us, we will be inspired by the story’s message of Hope and Courage.
All three (of my) books
were written in "retirement." It has been such a luxury to have the time and the passion to be able to do serious research and writing. So, I urge all my fellow teachers to consider writing. I am currently working on a teacher's guide for the newest book, Escape To Virginia. Writing this guide has allowed me to vicariously be in the classroom once more. What a thrill! Actually, several school systems and schools have plans to include the book in their curriculum, and I will be meeting with some classes as a guest author.
The History Press/Arcadia Publishing, (888) 313-2665, or e-mail email@example.com; Amazon; Barnes & Noble; Givens Books; or your own favorite, independent book store.
E-book available in March.
****Just to clarify, my first book was Paddling Prince Edward Island (Falcon Guides, 2006). My second book was The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue from Nazi Germany (The History Press, 2011). Escape To Virginia: From Nazi Germany to Thalhimer's Farm (The History Press/Arcadia Publishing, 2016) is my third book.
All three books were written in "retirement." It has been such a luxury to have the time and the passion to be able to do serious research and writing. So, I urge all my fellow teachers to consider writing. I am currently working on a teacher's guide for the newest book, Escape To Virginia. Writing this guide has allowed me to vicariously be in the classroom once more. What a thrill! Actually, several school systems and schools have plans to include the book in their curriculum, and I will be meeting with some classes as a guest author.
The following news story about author and former Fairfield teacher, Bob Gillette, appeared in the Fairfield Citizen on May 2, 2014 after his visit to the Fairfield University Bookstore. Clearly an inspirational teacher and person, Bob's latest book, "The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue from Nazi Germany" (The History Press, 2011), tells an inspirational story.
Be sure to click on the photos at the bottom to read the captions.
William B. Thalhimer, an American department store owner,
had a list of his own, unknown until now. Proof of his heroic and persistent
efforts to bring two dozen young Jewish students from Germany to a Virginia
farm in the 1930s sat in a box in a cavernous room of boxes at the National
Archives for decades until Fairfield native Robert H. Gillette's persistence
brought Thalhimer's story to light.
Gillette, who taught for many years in Fairfield high
schools, documents Thalhimer's rescue mission, creation of a safe haven on the
farm and the struggle of the refugees to start a new life in rural America in
his new book, "The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue from
Nazi Germany" (The History Press, 2011).
Gillette, who relocated to Lynchburg, Va., with his wife
Marsha in 2004, appeared Wednesday at the newly opened Fairfield University
Bookstore to discuss the story of courage, patience and hope on two continents.
He is the first author to speak at the new store at the former Borders site
downtown, which the university opened earlier this month.
His first book, "A Paddler's Guide to Prince Edward
Island," was published in 2006.
He characterized his latest book as "a historical
analysis of immigration history of this country; not our shining moment."
Back in the 1930s, Gillette said about 60 percent of the U.S. population was
anti-Semitic and the State Department was slow to issue visas to Jews,
"even as the Nazi noose became tighter and tighter."
"No one can say we didn't know what was going on in
Germany," said Gillette, who told the audience of about 100 people that
his five years of research uncovered news clippings with undeniable front page
Gillette said Thalhimer tried for 15 months to work with the
State Department to bring the students to U.S. soil. Initially, the State
Department was "a topography of exclusion," but eventually Thalhimer
wore down officials there and won their confidence.
"William Thalhimer did not give up. He would not give
up on those kids," said Gillette, who attended Grasmere School and Roger
Ludlowe High School (Class of 1955), where he was an outstanding athlete as
well as president of the student council and the senior class.
Gillette taught English at Andrew Warde High School and
Fairfield High School for 30 years until retiring in 1999. During that time, he
received numerous awards, including Teacher of the Year three times. He also
served as the director of Religious Education at Congregation B'nai Israel in
Bridgeport for 27 years, adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education
& Allied Professions at Fairfield University and lecturer at Sacred Heart
Although Gillette appeared at the bookstore to discuss his
new book, the event became a sort of "This is Your Life" moment with
many classmates, friends and former students populating the audience.
Leann Ratner, of Fairfield, a graduate of Fairfield High
School who did not have Gillette as a teacher but was inspired by his example,
said his book is really a metaphor for his own life.
"I thought the story was fascinating," she said.
"There's probably thousands of stories out there. It makes you stop and
think (about other unsung heroes). If you can make a difference in one person's
life, you can consider yourself successful and fulfilled.
"It's kind of Mr. Gillette's life, too. There are so
many people here in Fairfield that he touched who came to hear him speak."
"You're never too old to get something out of a Bob
Gillette lecture. It makes me feel old and it makes me feel young again,"
said Jeff Peterson of Fairfield, who told Gillette, "Sitting in the
audience was like sitting back in your class."
Betsy Meiman Parker, now a Milford resident, said Gillette enriched
many lives as evidenced by the response she got when she posted her plans to
attend his lecture on her Facebook page 24 hours before it took place. Meiman
Parker received two pages worth of messages from Gillette's former students
from as far away as Spain and Norway.
One former student, now living in Florida, told Meiman
Parker, "Please tell him I said hello and good luck. What an amazing man,
still the best teacher I ever had, when I needed a good teacher the most. That
guy changed my life. ... If you have a chance, tell him I said Thank You for
teaching me to read between the lines."
Gillette recounted boyhood memories growing up near the
Fairfield University campus and playing for his two coaches, Fernand
"Fern" Tetreau -- the father of newly elected First Selectman Mike
Tetreau -- and Bob Seirup, who were in the audience Wednesday. He said both men
influenced him and his teammates as students and as players. From Tetreau, he
said he learned "playing hard and playing fair and never swearing."
Gillette said he felt like "a taproot going into this
very soil of Fairfield."
After the lecture, Gillette caught up with former students
and classmates, including Fire Chief Richard Felner and the younger Tetreau. He
not only autographed numerous books, but took the time to write a personal
message in each.
"Bob was always a gentleman, well-spoken," Felner
said. "He was a leader and he's still a leader. I'm overwhelmed that he's
Elaine Bowman, program manager of the Carl and Dorothy
Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University, said officials at
the center were pleased to have sponsored the first event at the bookstore,
along with Congregation B'nai Israel, especially with Gillette as the guest
speaker discussing such a courageous story.Meg Barone