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