I Was A Child of Holo­caust Survivors

Ber­nice Eisenstein
  • Review
By – April 16, 2012

Ber­nice Eisen­stein calls her thirst for knowl­edge about the Holo­caust an addic­tion, sim­i­lar to being addict­ed to a drug. As a child grow­ing up in Toron­to, she sought infor­ma­tion about the Holo­caust in books and movies, and learned from observ­ing and lis­ten­ing to her par­ents, grand­par­ents, aunts and uncles, and their cir­cle of sur­vivor friends. Being a child of Holo­caust sur­vivors gave Eisen­stein a cer­tain dis­tinc­tion around her friends and allowed her to social­ly trade” on the fact that she was dif­fer­ent because of her par­ents’ past. From young child­hood (“stop pulling my pig­tails because my par­ents were in Auschwitz”) to adult­hood (“I’m not like the oth­er girls you date because my par­ents…”), the lega­cy of the Holo­caust has always been the ele­phant in the room with a pres­ence of its own. Through­out her heav­i­ly- illus­trat­ed mem­oir, Eisen­stein is suc­cess­ful in weav­ing togeth­er her own sto­ry with that of her par­ents and rel­a­tives, while always cir­cling back to the Holo­caust as the uni­fy­ing theme in all of their lives. 

Part graph­ic nov­el, part mem­oir, Eisenstein’s book is a unique and, at times, humor­ous look at a sober top­ic. Her black-and­white draw­ings are done in ink with a light gray wash, and they have an almost child­like feel. Peo­ple are depict­ed with large heads and expres­sive eyes, and are shown some­times in sur­re­al, Cha­gall-esque set­tings. There will be com­par­isons between Eisenstein’s work and the now-clas­sic graph­ic nov­el of Holo­caust sur­vivors, Maus. Read­ers need to keep in mind that these are two very dif­fer­ent works, despite the com­mon theme, and Eisenstein’s book will stand the test of time on its own merits.

Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

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