As a child, Barbara Feigin fled Nazi Germany in 1940 to Chehalis, Washington. A few years ago, her late Jewish father’s journal was discovered, detailing the family’s harrowing escape from Berlin.
“I knew that we had escaped from Germany, but I knew none of the details about it, and my parents never spoke about it,” Feigin said.
Her memoir, “My American Dream: A Journey from Fascism to Freedom,” was inspired by this discovery, and begins with the entirety of her father’s journal. Feigin’s book is currently available for preorder and will be released on Jan. 16.
Feigin’s son, Peter, became the president of the Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum in 2014. Since then, Feigin has frequented Milwaukee to cheer on the Bucks. She will speak about her memoir at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.
As her father’s journal describes, submarine attacks made it impossible for the family to cross the Atlantic. With their visas set to expire, the family embarked on a 17-day journey from Berlin to Japan, where they were finally able to cross the Pacific into Seattle, Washington.
“I don’t want my children ever to be as ignorant of what came before them as I had been of what came before me. So I thought, I’ve really got to write this down, and tell them not only about the journal and my parents, but also about my own life,” Feigin said.
Feigin attended Whitman College, a small liberal arts school in Walla Walla, Washington. As graduation loomed nearer, the narrow career prospects for women became apparent. “It was an era when the options for women were to become a teacher, a nurse, a typist, or to get married,” Feigin recalls.
Dissatisfied with the limited career paths afforded to women, she decided to apply to a business administration program. The program was run by Harvard Business School and Radcliffe Graduate School, since women were not admitted into Harvard Business School at the time.
“It was exactly the same classes as the men had at the business school, exactly the same teachers, but it was a one-year program, and we did not get an MBA, we got a certificate,” Feigin said.
From there, Feigin forged her way into the male-dominated advertising industry in New York City. She ended her 30-year career at Grey Advertising as a senior executive, and in 2017, Grey named her a Legendary Pioneer.
Simultaneously, Feigin raised three sons, and served as a caregiver to her husband, Jim, who suffered from two strokes at a young age.
“I think one of the principles that has driven me as I’ve gone forward is what my mother always taught me, and that is to dream big, work hard, and never quit. She also made very clear, and of course, their lives made very clear, that there will be bumps in the road, and so resilience is very important. Pick yourself up and move forward,” Feigin said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do. If I can inspire even one person to understand that and be moved by it, I’ll feel like I’ve made a difference.”