Inher­it­ing the Holo­caust: A Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Memoir

Paula S. Fass
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By – December 6, 2011
Holo­caust sur­vivors fall into two cat­e­gories: those who feel they must share the hor­ror of those days to pre­vent a repeat of his­to­ry, and those who keep their expe­ri­ences from every­one, even their own chil­dren, the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion. There are many rea­sons, includ­ing guilt over hav­ing sur­vived while mil­lions died.

Paula Fass com­bines her skills as an his­to­ri­an, writer, and researcher with her posi­tion as a child of sur­vivors with mem­o­ries impart­ed by her par­ents to cre­ate an unusu­al mem­oir of being part of the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion.” Her excep­tion­al skills as a writer make this book more than the usu­al ran­dom mem­oir of infor­ma­tion. 

Paula’s back­ground is Pol­ish. Her father had told her he had buried a large can of dia­monds in the Lodz ghet­to. He hat­ed Poland; he even hat­ed his good mem­o­ries. He was urged to go back to Poland to retrieve his for­tune. Paula and her sis­ter offered to go. He said, I will nev­er go back and you would be wast­ing your time. It is not dia­monds that I left behind.” 

Per­son­al mem­o­ry I knew to be an imper­fect source, an untrust­wor­thy con­nec­tion,” she notes ear­ly in the book. She decides to go to Poland, with her grown daugh­ter, to link her mother’s mem­o­ries and her daughter’s his­to­ry.” She does so with her historian’s exper­tise and her sec­ond gen­er­a­tion posi­tion fil­tered through third gen­er­a­tion obser­va­tions. Her artis­tic skill as a writer is well served. 

Her trip to Poland in 2000 is spent search­ing for pri­ma­ry doc­u­ments so that she might pass on to her chil­dren, not only per­son­al rec­ol­lec­tions (most­ly from her moth­er), but his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion these doc­u­ments revealed. This was very impor­tant to her because she had lost sib­lings in the Holo­caust. 

Most por­traits in a mem­oir are com­bined, usu­al­ly near the end, like an album. Fass inserts them chrono­log­i­cal­ly where they sup­port the text. The result is a touch­ing fam­i­ly sto­ry sup­port­ed by his­tor­i­cal fact. A com­pre­hen­sive fam­i­ly tree in the appen­dix gives life to this fam­i­ly. As a his­to­ry pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley and a sen­si­tive and lov­ing mem­ber of the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, Paula S. Fass is well qual­i­fied to tell her family’s sto­ry. Appendix.
Arlyne Samuels a grad­u­ate of Brook­lyn Col­lege, taught and super­vised Eng­lish in New York City for 40 years. She was the coor­di­na­tor of the book club of the Greater Worces­ter (MA) Chap­ter of Hadas­sah. Arlyne passed away in May 2009 and will be missed by the Jew­ish Book World team.

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