Sing This at My Funer­al: A Mem­oir of Fathers and Sons

November 5, 2019

In 1978, Jakub Sluc­ki passed away peace­ful­ly in his sleep at the age of sev­en­ty-sev­en. A Holo­caust sur­vivor whose first wife and two sons had been mur­dered at the Nazi death camp in Chelm­no, Poland, Jakub had lived a tur­bu­lent life. Just over thir­ty-sev­en years lat­er, his son Charles died of a heart attack. David Sluck­i’s Sing This at My Funer­al: A Mem­oir of Fathers and Sons tells the sto­ry of his father and his grand­fa­ther, and the grave lega­cy that they each passed on to him. This is a sto­ry about the Holo­caust and its after­math, about absence and the scars that nev­er heal, and about fathers and sons and what it means to raise young men.

In Sing This at My Funer­al, tragedy fol­lows the Sluc­ki fam­i­ly across the globe: from Jakub’s ear­ly child­hood in War­saw, where he wit­nessed the death of his par­ents dur­ing World War I, to the loss of his fam­i­ly at the hands of the Nazis in April 1942 to his remar­riage and relo­ca­tion in Paris, where after years of bereave­ment he wel­comes the birth of his third son before final­ly set­tling in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia in 1950 in an attempt to get as far away from the rav­ages of war-torn Europe as he could. Charles (Shmu­lik in Yid­dish) was named both after Jakub’s eldest son and his slain grandfather‑a bur­den he car­ried through his life, which was one oth­er­wise marked by opti­mism and adven­ture. The ghosts of these rel­a­tives were a con­stant in the Sluc­ki home, a small cot­tage that became the lifeblood of a small com­mu­ni­ty of Jew­ish immi­grants from Poland. David Sluc­ki inter­weaves the sto­ries of these men with his own sto­ry, show­ing how trau­mat­ic fam­i­ly his­to­ries leave their mark for generations.

Sluck­i’s mem­oir blends the schol­ar­ly and lit­er­ary, ground­ing the sto­ry of his grand­fa­ther and father in the broad­er con­text of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Based on thir­ty years of let­ters from Jakub to his broth­er Mendel, on archival mate­ri­als, and on inter­views with fam­i­ly mem­bers, this is a unique sto­ry and an inno­v­a­tive approach to writ­ing both his­to­ry and fam­i­ly nar­ra­tive. Stu­dents, schol­ars, and gen­er­al read­ers of mem­oirs will enjoy this deeply per­son­al reflec­tion on fam­i­ly and grief.

Discussion Questions

Ques­tions cour­tesy of David Slucki

  1. In what ways does the title reflect the themes that the book explores?

  2. Sluc­ki dis­cuss­es the chang­ing expec­ta­tions of father­hood and the chang­ing rela­tion­ships between fathers and sons over gen­er­a­tions. How much do you think the roles of fathers have changed and what are the fac­tors that have shaped those roles?

  3. Jakub and Eda sur­vived World War II in exile in Siberia. They were among the 250,000 to 300,000 Pol­ish Jews who sur­vived in the USSR. Why is this sto­ry not more well known?

  4. Why did Jakub col­lect a can­is­ter of ash­es from Chelm­no when he vis­it­ed in 1947? What might this act represent?

  5. To what extent does the trau­ma of the Holo­caust shape future gen­er­a­tions? How much does Slucki’s grandfather’s trau­ma affect him, par­tic­u­lar­ly giv­en that he died before Sluc­ki was born? Is trau­ma inherited?

  6. One thing that Sluc­ki wor­ries about is how and when to teach his son about the Holo­caust and its lega­cy. What is the best way to pass on that knowl­edge to new generations?

  7. Sluc­ki immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States, and his par­ents and grand­par­ents were immi­grants to Aus­tralia. How much does the expe­ri­ence of immi­gra­tion cre­ate a new sense of Jewishness?

  8. Are the polit­i­cal com­mit­ments of the Sluc­ki fam­i­ly out­dat­ed? Why were they so per­sis­tent in his fam­i­ly? How did those val­ues inform their day-to-day lives?

  9. Slucki’s grand­par­ents all fled Poland, seek­ing refuge from war and anti­semitism. They nev­er returned, but when he vis­it­ed as an adult, he felt a sense of attach­ment. How do you rec­on­cile his grand­par­ents’ lack of attach­ment to Poland with his feel­ings of it as a kind of ances­tral home?

  10. What role does Israel play in the lives of the Sluc­ki family?

  11. How reli­able is Slucki’s mem­o­ry in recon­struct­ing his sto­ries, and in retelling those of his father and grandfather?