Earlier this week, Richard Dean Rosen wrote about Sophie Turner-Zaretsky, one of the subjects of his new book, as well well as how he came to write his recently published book, Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.
When I began researching and writing Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors, I thought it would be great to cross the Holocaust off that list of subjects that I hadn’t studied, and didn’t understand. What I didn’t anticipate was that the more you read about the Holocaust, the more you talk to Holocaust survivors, the more you seem to know about it, the less you can comprehend it.
I was surprised by the tenacity of the depressed feelings that studying the Holocaust left me with. When I shared my distress with friends, it turned out that this was a common occupational hazard for people who tackled the subject with any seriousness. I felt I had unwittingly joined a club whose members had struggled, and failed, to understand the most concentrated, organized, industrialized, large-scale, and international act of inhumanity in history.
When a close friend of mine, Paul — a brilliantly well-informed, ravenously curious, and very competitive man — read the galleys of my book, he set out to see for himself about the Holocaust. He’s a man accustomed to mastering new subject matter with ease. After a week of reading, he called me in frustration, already defeated by the enormity of it, the scale of the inhumanity. That the Final Solution mocks one’s efforts to understand it became, for me, no longer just a clever intellectual remark made at dinner parties, but a deeply felt emotional reality.
An emotional reality that, once I started working on the book, began to manifest itself all around me. After attending a conference of hidden child survivors and their descendants in Cleveland, I jumped on an Amtrak train back to New York (Hurricane Katrina was closing in), and was seated in the dining car next to a non-Jewish woman who told me that, when she was a child in Florida, her parents had adopted a Jewish refugee who had been one of Mengele’s experimental subjects. Then I discovered that the husband of one of the women in my book had hid in the Dutch Resistance during the war, and he has a brother who lives a few blocks from where I grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. How strange to go home, where I had grown up in a state of such obliviousness to the Holocaust, to interview him. Then I heard from a high school classmate of mine, whose parents had been child survivors, and she told me about another classmate of mine, whose parents were survivors, and no one had ever said anything about it! And then, just a month ago, I was visiting my sister, walking the dog with her, and she introduced me to a man my age whose parents were on Schindler’s list. And he told me that his family was one of the rare ones where the Holocaust and the camps were talked about openly. So openly that when his parents told this man at the age of seven that they were sending him to summer camp, he assumed it was a concentration camp, that this was just something of a family tradition!
I can’t even count the number of people I’ve run into recently who turn out to be the children of survivors. There will soon come a time, however, when the Holocaust will take its silent place in the history of inhumanity, when even the children of the children will be gone, and the stories will all begin, “A long time ago, when my grandmother was a little girl” in Poland or France or Holland or Hungary….
Richard Dean Rosen has written many books, but none presented more challenges than Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors. It’s a book that neither he initially wanted to write nor his subjects wanted written, but fate and the author’s own hidden agenda intervened.
- Dawn Follows Even the Darkest of Nights: A Legacy of Remembrance by Menachem Z. Rosensaft
- Holocaust Education: The Missing Piece by Margareta Ackerman
- Holes by Ruth Franklin