Dr. Renate Justin surmounts tragedy to share her story In ‘What I Have To Tell: A Memoir’

By Scott Skillman

From time to time, the Temple receives unsolicited books for review, consideration or for no reason at all. One such book, What I Have to Tell: A Memoir by Renate G. Justin, M.D. (Crystal Publishing, Fort Collins, CO, 2019), caught my eye, as it was credited to a former member of the Terre Haute Jewish community.

The self-published book (numbered with a replicated author’s signature) is a fast and troubling read.

Our narrator makes clear a person can rise above her circumstances, but that does not necessarily mean she can escape them.

In 163 pages, we are informed of a world of pain and how one person chose to rise above it. Our narrator makes clear a person can rise above her circumstances, but that does not necessarily mean she can escape them.

Planned Parenthood filled a need, provided challenges

I do not want to spoil the surprises for the reader and I do hope some will read the book.

Unfortunately, the author provides a frustrating lack of details about major stretches of her life.

For instance, we are told of her first medical practice in Terre Haute, but we have no clue about how or why she is in Indiana.

Dr. Renate Justin met antisemitism with compassion, commitment to family medicine

Following an early life of hardship, on the run from Nazis and then facing antisemitism in her adopted home of the United States, Dr. Renate Justin determined that she would heretofore treat others only with respect and compassion.

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The history provides no dates and certainly no names.

We are made aware of the challenges Dr. Justin faced in dealing with her male colleagues and from a community not particularly supportive of Planned Parenthood. (Dr. Justin co-founded Planned Parenthood of Vigo County in 1970).

We could benefit from learning about how she overcame those challenges or won over her detractors.

The memoir is largely about the consequences of surviving amid so much pain and controversy and the toll those challenges take on other aspects of one’s life.

Trauma stalked Justin’s life

In a jarring twist, Dr. Justin during the latter stages on her life is again thrust into a world of antisemitic hatred when her granddaughter is murdered by an insane racist.

Again, the recounting of this incident leaves many unanswered questions. Perhaps that is the point. Life does not have all the answers we want for resolution.

Our writer is not a mope or a whiner. She offers not one hint of, “Why me?” in this memoir. The facts and events stand for themselves.

I hope others will read this compelling and provocative autobiography, now available in the Biography section of UHC’s second-floor library.

The postscript tells us the publisher completed the final draft after Dr. Justin passed away in 2017. Her daughter contributed many photos to the project.

I hope others will read this compelling and provocative autobiography, now available in the Biography section of UHC’s second-floor library.

Ultimately, one may ask about Dr. Justin and this book, “Why were her joys in life not worth telling?”

I would not characterize What I Have to Tell as “fun” read. But it is well worth the time for its ability to generate introspection. Dr. Justin’s story could initiate some great discussions.

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Justin McCammon
Justin McCammon
May 31, 2021 12:40 pm

This is A strange feeling, I was always told I was named after a Dr. Justin, who was a local Dr. My mother greatly admired in the area, when I was born in 1981. I never gave it too much thought, but on inquiring with my mother this morning, This Dr. Justin is indeed, one and the same. Funny how life brings things full circle and here I am finding a fascinating commentary on the memoirs of the woman I was named after.