Noemi Jaffe, a noted Brazilian writer, is a daughter of an Auschwitz survivor. Given the plethora of Holocaust memoirs, one asks what would allow a fresh work on the topic to stand out and merit attention?
Ms. Jaffe succeeds in this challenge by incorporating a novel approach to her mother’s traumatic Holocaust saga. The mother’s diary of her months in Auschwitz was preserved and, after decades of avoidance, Ms. Jaffe studied her mother’s entries. What follows is a most thought provoking, psychologically informed meditation on her mother’s near death experiences. Ms. Jaffe, using her well established literary skills, selects a range of themes evoked when reading the diary. How does being raised by a severely traumatized mother affect ones own perceptions, values and beliefs? Ones identity as Jew, as a woman and as a mother? In answering such questions, Ms. Jaffe selects various diary passages and reflects upon the intergenerational meaning of her mother’s hunger, anger, fear, humiliation, memories and dignity. Ms. Jaffe skillfully incorporates the poetry of survivor Paul Celan and the insights of Primo Levi into her commentary. This enriches her writing and makes her struggles with anger and faith all the more vivid and compelling. Ms. Jaffe intuitively asks the reader to accompany her in thinking about her mother’s perceptions. This is the book’s greatest strength, the triggering in the reader of continual self reflection. Her mother states: “I’m not angry at anyone, not even at the Nazis.” The reader then joins Ms. Jaffe in her inquiry into the place of anger and hatred as well as reconciliation in her life and ours.
Ms. Jaffe’s arresting commentary is ideally designed for advanced graduate level courses dealing with themes such as trauma, memory and identity. In addition, readers coming from diverse fields, such as psychoanalysis, modern Jewish philosophy, Holocaust studies and traumatology will find this work a most valuable addition to the literature.
The book concludes with the voice of the third post Holocaust generation. Leda, the survivor’s granddaughter, shares her impressions following a visit to Auschwitz with her mother. Leda, sharing her mother’s literary gifts, ponders how her grandmother’s survival of Auschwitz has affected her. In a touching manner, she shares, that despite her full immersion into the millennial world, she cannot escape, nor does she wish to escape, her identity as both a Jew and one carrying the legacy of the Shoah. Being a member of the third generation has greatly influenced her sense of self and ongoing self realization. These last few pages will resonate with children of survivors, now aging baby boomers, with children like Leda in their late twenties and thirties.