God, Faith & Iden­ti­ty from the Ash­es: Reflec­tions of Chil­dren and Grand­chil­dren of Holo­caust Survivors

  • Review
By – December 19, 2014

It was not until Elie Wiesel pub­lished his book Night that the dams were bro­ken and sur­vivors’ tes­ti­mo­ny began to flow to the pub­lic and to chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. Once again, it is Elie Wiesel who intro­duces new tes­ti­mo­ny, that of the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of sur­vivors. Now among the mid­dle-aged, nine­ty descen­dants of sur­vivors describe their reac­tions to their family’s expe­ri­ences and how it has impact­ed their own lives, beliefs, and expectations.

The book is divid­ed into four parts. In Part I, God and Faith, rab­bis and writ­ers exhib­it a range of respons­es about the pres­ence or absence of God dur­ing the Holo­caust, includ­ing the book’s edi­tor Men­achem Z. Rosen­saft, who writes about see­ing God’s pres­ence in the brav­ery of his moth­er, who saved many of her camp sisters.

Part II deals with Iden­ti­ty: Why didn’t all sur­vivors emerge from their expe­ri­ence so dam­aged that they could no longer func­tion, instead of rush­ing to nor­mal­cy, progress, and suc­cess, while bat­tling the demons that haunt­ed them? Thane Rosen­baum notes how many sur­vivors’ chil­dren entered the help­ing pro­fes­sions as psy­chol­o­gists and psychiatrists. 

Part III dis­cuss­es how sur­vivors’ fam­i­ly expe­ri­ences shaped their atti­tudes toward God, faith, Judaism, the Jew­ish peo­ple, and the world as a whole. Tali Zelkowitz, whose four grand­par­ents were Holo­caust sur­vivors, says that for the first twen­ty years of her life, her Jew­ish gaze was trained whol­ly on the Holo­caust. She came to the con­clu­sion that sec­ond gen­er­a­tion chil­dren grow up try­ing nev­er to be a bur­den to their par­ents, nev­er free to be just chil­dren.” She wants to release them so that wit­ness­ing no longer takes place as an oblig­a­tion, but as an act of lov­ing kindness. 

Part IV, Tikkun Olam: Chang­ing the World for the Bet­ter” is the book’s final mes­sage. It is the force that dri­ves Tali Nates, direc­tor of the Johan­nes­burg Holo­caust and Geno­cide Cen­tre. Nev­er Again,” upsets her because it has hap­pened again. After the geno­cide in Rwan­da, she feels that as a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Holo­caust sur­vivor, Nev­er Again” is up to her.

Read Men­achem Z. Rosen­saft’s Vis­it­ing Scribe Posts


Pre­serv­ing the Mystery

Dawn Fol­lows Even the Dark­est of Nights: A Lega­cy of Remembrance

Auschwitz-Birke­nau, Jan­u­ary 27, 2015: A Poem


Read Nat Bern­stein’s inter­view with Men­achem Z. Rosen­saft here.

Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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