Holo­caust Moth­ers and Daugh­ters: Fam­i­ly, His­to­ry, and Trauma

Fred­er­i­ca K. Clementi

  • Review
By – September 3, 2014

To exam­ine the expe­ri­ence of the Ho­locaust, this book explores the bonds between moth­er and daugh­ter as described in the daugh­ters’ mem­oirs. Clemen­ti ana­lyzes six moth­er-daugh­ter pairs, each one rep­re­sent­ing a dif­fer­ent tra­jec­to­ry: dying in Auschwitz with the moth­er; wit­ness­ing the mother’s death in Auschwitz; sur­viv­ing Auschwitz with the moth­er; sur­viv­ing in hid­ing with the moth­er; sur­viv­ing by being sent abroad as refugees (and nev­er being reunit­ed with the moth­ers and fathers who remained in Europe and were killed); and being born to sur­vivor moth­ers.” But, con­trary to what the casu­al read­er might expect from read­ing sim­i­lar books, the chap­ters do not recount the day-by-day expe­riences of the mem­oirists or their moth­ers; rather, Clementi’s focus is on under­stand­ing these moth­er-daugh­ter rela­tion­ships as they play out through inci­dents before, dur­ing, or after the Shoah.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing are Clementi’s com­par­isons of the moth­er-daugh­ter pairs to each oth­er. Even the obvi­ous dif­fer­ences are thought-pro­vok­ing: for exam­ple, it is no sur­prise that a daugh­ter who escaped via Kinder­trans­port expe­ri­ences the rela­tion­ship with her moth­er dif­fer­ent­ly from a daugh­ter who hid with her moth­er for an extend­ed peri­od of time. Yet the author artic­u­lates these dif­fer­ences mean­ing­ful­ly. The book is also notable thanks to Clementi’s impres­sive use of a wide range of aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­plines to eval­u­ate and under­stand the mem­oirs and the impli­ca­tions of their expe­ri­ences for peo­ple who may have sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences, either as sur­vivors or descen­dants of sur­vivors. She draws on ana­lyt­i­cal tools from, among oth­er fields, fem­i­nist stud­ies, includ­ing intersection­ality, psy­cho­analy­sis, and literature.

Giv­en its dif­fi­cult sub­ject, Holo­caust Moth­ers and Daugh­ters is obvi­ous­ly not a casu­al read. Clemen­ti makes the com­pli­cat­ed top­ic acces­si­ble to those who have some back­ground in the sub­ject. And although read­ers may not be acquaint­ed with most of the mem­oirists dis­cussed in the book, much can be learned from Clementi’s analy­sis of their expe­ri­ences. This is espe­cial­ly true for the last chap­ter, about Anne Frank, with whom most every­one will be familiar.

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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