What Are the Blind Men Dreaming?

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

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.

Relat­ed Reads:

Steven A. Luel, Ph.D., is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion and psy­chol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege, New York. He is a devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­cho­an­a­lyst in pri­vate prac­tice. He is co-edi­tor (with Paul Mar­cus) of Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Reflec­tions on the Holo­caust: Select­ed Essays.

Discussion Questions