I try to avoid books about the Holocaust, especially those about children of survivors. As a member of the latter group, I find the books either too painful and too familiar or insufficiently painful and somehow not enough.
So when “God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes,” an anthology of reflections by children and grandchildren of survivors, edited by Menachem Z. Rosensaft (Jewish Lights), came my way, I did everything I could to ignore it. In my procrastination, I turned instead to another another anthology I have at home that I hadn’t looked at in years: “The Children Accuse” by Maria Hochberg-Marianska and Noe Gruss, published in Polish in 1946, and translated into English years later, by the Jewish Historical Commission in Cracow. These are recountings by actual child survivors right after the war and I know of it because my mother was one of these child narrators, although the story she relayed in the book is slightly different, briefer and less expansive than the tale she told when I was growing up. Each child’s report is short and painful; the writing is serviceable and almost prosaic, the stories told without affect. But they are first-hand accounts from the children themselves and as such have an immediacy and a legitimacy that I felt this new anthology could not attain and I wondered at the need for this book.
When I finally forced myself to turn the first pages, Elie Wiesel’s moving prologue ushered me forward. Addressing and commending the many contributing writers, he says, “You are being summoned to do something with pieces of words, with fragments of our vision, with remains of our broken, dispersed memories.”
At first glance, the most striking fact about this anthology is the age of its contributing writers. These “children” of survivors are not young; even the grandchildren are not so young: The challenge is how to keep these stories young.
The many accounts vary in their effectiveness; some are intensely moving, others less compelling. Rosensaft’s affecting piece on his parents stands out; Ethan Bronner’s (formerly of The New York Times and now at Bloomberg News) exhortation to reconcile with Poland engenders only an eye roll. But the sum of the book is greater than its parts and it’s the composite that is the real story. Together, these many contributors provide the turn-around to their survivor parents’ experiences — the happy and successful lives that they live.
Their reflective musings reveal their pride — in their parents, their heritage and their history and the new history that they are creating. And that is the glory of this book. If each survivor is an ud mutzal me’aish (brand plucked from the fire), then those embers have recreated a blaze that defies the ashes. Instead of being deformed and stunted by the experiences of their forebears, these second and third generations are flourishing, changing the trajectory from misery to hope. And there is no greater memorial to that persecuted generation than the success of their children.Triumph indeed.
Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.