Memory is Our Home. Loss and Remembering: Three Generations in Poland and Russia 1917–1960s
Dear friends please share widely. Last review of my book was written on 05 Oct, 2017, by Dr. Tanya Narozhna, Associate Prof., Political Science, University of Winnipeg, for the Journal Europe-Asia Studies, U of Glasgow. “SUZANNA EIBUSZYC’S BOOK IS A DEEPLY MOVING AND POIGNANT memoir written by a daughter based on her mother’s diaries. The book is an example of life writing at its finest. It situates the horrific experiences of a family in the broader historical context and recovers the continuity of a biographical narrative of the family and community, ensuring that the memories of the unspeakably tragic past are not forgotten.”
The entire review is posted on this website: https://doi.org/10.1080/09668136.2017.1371494
“Dr. Narozhna wrote a moving review and in turn I was moved to write her a short thank you note. This morning I got a response from her that I am sharing.
“Dear Suzanna, if I may, if anyone should be thankful, then it’s myself and all the other readers of your book. I was deeply moved by the story of your family. And I can honestly say that your book has taught me more about the importance of memory and the impossibility of separating the personal from the political than the volumes of academic literature on the subject.
So, thank you! Tanya”
Born in 1917 and raised, along with five older siblings, by a single mother amidst extreme poverty and starvation, Roma Talasowicz became one of the 86,500 Jewish refugees who survived the Holocaust in the Soviet labour camps. She returned to Poland in the summer of 1946 only to find that her siblings and their families, as well as all the members of her extended family who stayed behind, had vanished. Not only was the life she once had destroyed, but Roma was also refused permission to settle in her home city of Warsaw. Instead, she was sent, along with other Polish Jews repatriated from the Soviet Union, to reside in the former German territory that became the southwestern part of Poland after World War II. Here, in the town of Ziebice, she worked hard to rebuild her life and raise a family. However, ‘the hostile environment of the Catholic Church, the Communist Polish government, and her own post-traumatic stress’ (p. 31) permeated everyday life, making a return to normalcy impossible.
Roma’s daughter Suzanna is the child of two Holocaust survivors. Growing up in the Holocaust aftermath, she has her own painful memories, having been a witness to her parents’ deep grief. In her own words, ‘I grew up in a home where my sister and I lived, day by day, haunted by my parents’ experiences. Their psychic injuries, their traumas were transmitted to us, the second generation. I absorbed my mother’s abandonment and helplessness and I felt her fears and resignation’ (p. 65). The stories, experiences and memories of Roma and Suzanna are deeply entwined. This memoir is a journey undertaken by mother and daughter together, offering an intimate insight into the psychological impact of the Holocaust on the survivors and the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Throughout the book Suzanna speaks of her mother’s Holocaust scars—her inability to believe in God, to experience happiness, or to trust and connect with others, her anxiety around Jewish and Christian holidays, her fear of being harassed, and her desire to be invisible in order not to attract attention. She notes how, in the absence of coping mechanisms, her father retreated ‘behind a wall of impenetrable silence’ (p. 119) and ‘became a stranger to the new family he created after the war’ (p. 145). While Roma and Suzanna write primarily about their personal lives, they also include astute observations about the broader socio-political context of everyday life and offer reflections on how changes in the political climate affected day-to-day existence. As such, the book raises a number of important issues. For example, in Chapters 5 and 7 Roma recalls the rise of virulent anti-Semitism in Poland in the 1930s, including the introduction of the so-called ‘Aryan clauses’ that limited Jewish access to white-collar jobs and of ‘ghetto benches’ that legalised official segregation policies, which continued with the German invasion (p. 70). Fuelled by the popular rightwing National Democratic Party, the rise of anti-Semitism was accompanied by ethnic intolerance, aggressiveness and militarism. Given the endogenous dynamics of Poland’s movement towards fascism in the 1930s, the book raises the issue of local culpability and Polish co-responsibility for the Holocaust. As Suzanna puts it, ‘Poland, as a nation, has to face its demons’ (p. 242).
One of those demons is an ongoing anti-Semitism. In the book Suzanna recounts how in the early 1990s, local residents vandalised monuments in the Jewish cemetery in Klodzko where her father had been buried. Even though she knew about the damage from her Polish colleagues, Suzanna confesses that ‘nothing could have prepared’ (p. 156) her for the ruin and devastation she witnessed at the desecrated cemetery when visiting her father’s grave years later with her own daughters. She notes with bitterness and anguish how vandals had violated not only the granite, but also her mother’s simple request for her husband’s ‘peace and quiet of his spirit’ (p. 157) inscribed on the monument. Memory is Our Home underscores the importance of remembering and giving voice to victims in order to restore their dignity by validating their memories. The book powerfully conveys the need and responsibility to preserve one’s identity and heritage and to tell the story of a once-vibrant cultural life destroyed in the course of the Holocaust. Equally important, it also calls upon readers to keep the memory of past atrocities alive as a way of preventing future injustices.
TANYA NAROZHNA, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Winnipeg, Canada.
Sean Martin. Associate Curator for Jewish History, Western Reserve Historical Society, The Russian Review, Volume 75, Issue 2, April 2016. Pages 334-335. Wiley Online Library Link, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/
This remarkable memoir combines the voices of a mother and daughter to recount the story of Roma Talasiewicz-Eibuszyc, a Polish Jewish refugee in the Soviet Union during World War II. Suzanna Eibuszyc translated her mother’s memoir from Polish and, interspersed throughout sections of her mother’s narrative, added parts of her own story growing up in postwar Poland. The story of mother and daughter spans the long twentieth century, from 1918 to 1968. Memory Is Our Home is a primary source that deserves the attention of those interested in prewar Polish Jewry, the course of the Holocaust, the fate of refugees in the Soviet Union, and Jews in postwar Poland. The story told here is raw and moving and filled with descriptions that illuminate our understanding of what happens to civilians during and after wartime trauma. Talasiewicz-Eibuszyc was born in Warsaw in 1917. She grew up attached to Poland and Polish culture and to both leftist and Jewish nationalist ideals. She survived the war by fleeing to the Soviet Union, spending most of the war years in Saratov as a worker at a textiles factory and then in dire poverty in towns in Uzbekistan.
She returned to Poland in 1946, only to find that her only surviving relative was her sister Pola, who had also taken refuge in the Soviet Union during the war. She then settled in Ziębice with her husband Abram and started a family. Abram Eibuszyc’s infectious tuberculosis prevented the family’s emigration to the United States or Israel. After his death, the family emigrated in 1966 to the United States, where Pola had settled after the war.
Memory Is Our Home is especially valuable for its insights into issues of class and gender. For example, Talasiewicz-Eibuszyc candidly describes difficulties related to menstruation and abortion (both in prewar Poland and during the war. She mentions often the offers she received to join soldiers in the Anders’ Army when they passed through Uzbekistan, offers she always rejected to stay with her then partner and later husband, Abram. The memoir is a frank portrayal of the difficulties the couple faced and, ultimately, the strength of their love in spite of the persistence of these difficulties.
Suzanna Eibuszyc’s accounts of postwar Poland attest to the effect of trauma on the subsequent generation and the processing of that trauma in early twenty-first-century America. The placement of these sections throughout the text reminds the reader that wartime victims of trauma transmitted their insecurities to later generations. Vignettes such as Eibuszyc’s description of her exclusion from religious instruction in the public schools of the 1950s offer important information for the historian.
The book is noteworthy for the description of a Jewish refugee’s attachment to Poland; its extensive description of prewar life in Poland, wartime experiences in the Soviet Union, and postwar fates; its account of class differences; and its inclusion of the voice of the next generation. Also striking are the descriptions of desperate poverty, before, during, and after the war. Even more than similar memoirs, this is an idiosyncratic work.
Eibuszyc offers the occasional note and a list of recommended books, but the volume would have benefited from a stronger scholarly introduction and additional annotation throughout the text. For example, while passages on such topics as assimilation and class contribute significantly to our understanding, the reader unfamiliar with details such as the distinctions between the Bund and the Polish Socialist party is likely to be confused. This should not, however, detract from the importance of This volume for students of the history of World War II and its consequences.
Dr. Joanna B. Michlic. Dept. of Historical Studies, Bristol University, UK. The HBI Director, Project on Families, Children, and the Holocaust, Brandeis, MA, US. http://www.brandeis.edu/hbi/childrenholocaust/about.html
This is an essential primary source for scholars and graduate students of European Women Studies, East European Jewish History, and the Holocaust. Roma Eibuszyc’s memoir is extremely powerful and throws new light on the daily life of young Jewish women in prewar Poland. This is also an insightful memoir to study the faith of Jews, and especially young Jewish women in the Soviet Union during the WWII, a subject matter that only recently has caught the attention of scholars of the Holocaust and East European Jewish History.
Eric Scot. Eibuszyc has written a gripping memoir about her Polish Jewish family’s struggle to find its place inside a country she once called home. Terrifying encounters with Nazism, Communism and extreme Polish nationalism tell only part of the story. This book is a testimony to the complexities of Polish identity and the author’s unresolved feelings towards the society, language and culture that once gave her life.”
“Memory is Our Home”, Eric Scott, Documentary Filmmaker http://www.restitutionthedocumentary.com/
Adam Zamoyski. Award-winning British historian and author of the best-selling epic 1812. Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow and its sequel Rites of Peace. The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna. He is also a distinguished commentator and reviewer, and has contributed to all the major British papers and periodicals, and lectured widely in England, Europe and the United States. Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, of the Royal Society of Arts, and of the Royal Society of Literature. http://www.adamzamoyski.com
This is an extraordinary document, unique in many ways. Its freshness and honesty bring to life with exceptional clarity and immediacy the struggle for survival of those at the bottom of the social and economic scale during this terrible period: anti-Semitism and the Holocaust should not obscure the fact that for the overwhelming majority of the Jews of Central Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, grinding poverty and hunger threatened on a daily basis. With best wishes, Adam Zamoyski.
Kenneth Waltzer. Michigan State University, Ph.D., Harvard University; History, Director of Jewish Studies at MSU, was selected by the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to participate in an international research workshop of scholars that was the first to work in the newly opened Red Cross-International Tracing Service (ITS) Archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany in June 2008.
This memoir by Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc, translated and prepared from the original Polish by her daughter Susanna Eibuszyc, is the memoir of a Jewish woman born in Warsaw in 1917 and raised in a close-knit family of six amidst difficult challenges and portending disaster. By her early teen and adult years, Roma had lost her parents, embraced a radical politics hopeful for a new world, and then experienced the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. Before the creation of the Jewish ghetto, Roma escaped east to Russian-held territory and eventually spent most of the war in Uzbekistan. Afterward, she returned to build a new Communist Poland until the late 1960s, when anti-Semitism again drove her from Poland. This is an interesting story of the persistent hope for a new world by a young Jewish woman who faced the terrible events that shaped 20th century Polish Jewish existence and alone survived to recount a full life.
Zieva Dauber Konvisser. Wayne State University Professor, Ph.D. Fellow, Institute for Social Innovation, Fielding Graduate University. http://www.zievakonvisser.com/index.html
A beautiful biographical memoir and a labor of love written by a daughter based on her mother’s diaries and the difficult stories told to her as a child so that she – and now we – should never forget!
A story of survival in Soviet Russia and Uzbekistan after escaping the atrocities of World War II in Poland, demonstrating how “when faced with tragedy, people found a way to triumph” and how “their human spirit rose above all suffering.”
And an important lesson that “A responsibility rests upon us-not just to preserve the memory of injustice, but also to prevent future injustice.” https://www.amazon.com/review/R2F1A7I4XFXSHJ/ref=pe_1098610_137716200_cm_rv_eml_rv0_rv
Antony Polonsky. Professor, Albert Abramson of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Chief historian of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
“This moving double memoir of a mother and daughter, based partly on the mother’s diary and partly on her conversations with her daughter describes the mother’s life in pre-war Warsaw, how she was able to survive the war in the Soviet Union and her subsequent life in Poland until the family’s forced emigration in the wake of the ‘anti-Zionist campaign of 1968. It is essential reading for all those interested in the fate of Polish Jews in the twentieth century.”
Matthew Feldman. Professor of History and co-director of the Center for Fascist, Anti-fascist and Post-fascist Studies at Teesside University, UK http://www.tees.ac.uk/schools/soh/staff_profile_details.cfm?staffprofileid=U0027555
An immensely moving narrative of one Jewish family’s life in Poland, both before and after Nazi Germany’s indelible murderousness. Spanning the middle decades of the 20th century and centering upon Warsaw – the intellectual and demographic capital of Jewry in Europe before its annihilation by Hitler’s Third Reich – this presents not just a single, detailed narrative, but two. Roma’s diary and her daughter Suzanna’s memoir are skillfully interwoven across this richly textured account, itself set against the backdrop of three Poland’s: quasi-liberal between the wars; Nazi-occupied; and then as part of the USSR’s Warsaw Pact. Memory is our Home is a heartfelt testimony to individual acts of survival and memory under an occupation of unparalleled rapacity. Although the daily, scarcely-believable brutality of Nazi occupation makes for emotionally challenging reading, this book is ultimately a story of hope and resolve, not despair. Suzanna Eibuszyc’s account will appeal to a wide range of academics (especially of the Shoah, of modern Poland, and of Jewish Studies), but its intended audience is, surely, much wider than this. Memory is our Home is aimed at anyone wanting a better, more personal understanding of sacrifice and survival in the Warsaw Ghetto and wartime Russia – let alone the searing memories afterwards which, like European Jewry as a whole during World War Two, refused to give in and be forgotten. Equally unforgettable and highly recommended.
Marilyn J. Harran. PhD. Director, Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and Stern Chair in Holocaust History, Chapman University, CA. http://www.chapman.edu/our-faculty/marilyn-harran
“A poignant chronicle of one woman’s harrowing journey across the decades, from Poland in the post-World War I era to Nazi occupation and flight to Russia and Uzbekistan. The book’s rich detail creates a living portrait of a survivor, her determination, and the dangerous and complex times in which she lived. The story also powerfully reflects a daughter’s love for her mother demonstrated by her careful transcription of her mother’s words and her own moving responses to them.”
Dr. Dennis B. Klein. Professor of History, Director, Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Kean University, NJ. http://www.kean.edu/~dklein/classes.htm
“Seen and Unseen” excerpt from Foreword to Memory Is Our Home By Dennis Klein.
This memoir, however, is unusual. It is not only the result of a conversation between mother and daughter; it is also constructed in two voices. We learn about the past and the present, or more technically, about intergenerational transmission. I am drawn to the mother’s direct account of her experience in Poland between the two world wars, the new realities she encountered, and her life-changing disillusionment that resulted from an exposure to aggressive behavior that came as a complete shock to her and her generation of Jews who were looking forward to an affirmative life. “Home,” as in the title of this memoir, would have to materialize where it could: in survivors’ memories.
Shatit Shoshi. Prof. Bar Ilan University, Israel, clinician in private practice for emotional, academic and behavioral therapy. Daughter of Holocaust survivor from Poland, runes an International group of Sokolow Podlaski Jewish Community that organizes memorial days and other activities to cherish our ancestors.
I have to say it is an exciting, interesting and important piece of reading. As a second generation person, whose father went through similar history of life, I identified with a lot of sentences in your book. It is a desire of us, second generation, to ease the pain and the burden of our parents by telling their unbelievable stories and make sure the world will hear them ‘maybe learn from them. I always ask myself -how much do I let the past -my father’s past- be present in my life. I know that if I don’t tell his story and carry on the torch, is like murdering all our family members again and miss the lesson Humanity has yet to learn from that part of history. Your writing, Suzanna, is beautifully done by combining the personal with the national, the past with the present and the fathers’ story with their children’s one. Also, as a person, who deals with emotional healing of people, I fully encourage people to learn about their ancestors’ history and traumas. Science as well experience shows us again and again that we carry in our genes not only our parents’ blue eyes or dark skin but their memories as well. Reading a memoir like yours tells the story of so many people so that reading it can help heal a lot generations who carry this unbelievable tragedy in their lives. Thank you for opening a window to your mother’s life and heart so we can also observe our own.
Dalia Ofer. Max and Rita Haber Professor, Avraham Harman, Institute of Contemporary Jewry. Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Emeritus, Max and Rita Haber Professor of Holocaust and East European studies, Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, the Melton Center for Jewish Education. http://new.huji.ac.il/en
The life story of Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc, as translated and prepared from the original Polish by her daughter Suzanna Eibuszyc is a remarkable memoir of a Jewish working class woman in Poland. It describes her experiences from the early 1920s through her life as a refugee in the Soviet Union during World War II and continuing to her ultimate departure from Poland in 1967. Her story is told with great compassion and sincerity, reflecting an ability to both love and criticize the life she recalls. Memoirs by Jewish working class women in Poland between the two World Wars are quite rare. The detailed description of her family’s economic hardship, the hierarchy between the lower classes and the bourgeoisie and the limited ability to move between classes during the 1920s and 1930s are extremely interesting and moving. Like many other young Jews of her time, the quest to improve their lives and to work toward a just society motivated Roma and her friends to enthusiastically join socialist movements.
The presence of solidarity and friction between the members of this family, who first lost their father and later their mother, are told with great honesty. Roma’s description of how these young teenagers were able to assist each other and sustain their family unit leave the reader absolutely moved. This memoir offers an enriching experience for historians, scholars of social studies, as well as for general readers. It presents the details of daily life through the eyes of a young girl, a teenager, and a young woman who slowly discovers her femininity and dares to acknowledge her individuality, desires and hopes. These include stories of how young working class women wanted to dress, how their bodies and appearance mattered to them, why window shopping appealed to them, and how movies, libraries and reading opened up worlds beyond the barriers posed by poverty and long work hours.
The force of Roma’s personality, her determination to escape the Nazis and to survive and return to her family members who stayed in Poland represent not only a personal story but the narrative of many Jews who fled to the Soviet Union in order to survive. This memoir displays a narrative from a generation that successfully escaped the Holocaust but endured its losses for the rest of their lives.
Arlene J. Stein. Department of Sociology Rutgers University, NJ. http://sociology.rutgers.edu/faculty/menu-ii/228-arlene-stein
AREAS OF INTEREST Sociology of gender, sexuality, historical sociology, feminist theory, identities, social movements, culture, trauma, collective memory, religion, public sociology.
I have now read your mother’s memoir and have to say that I found it extremely moving. I am amazed at your mother’s power of recall–the subtle nuances of daily life before and after the war she captured so many years after the fact, the tremendous hardships she faced from an early age, and how those hardships continued to affect her life after the war. For me personally, the memoir was particularly moving–and relevant– since your mother’s story was so similar to my father’s, at least in its basic contours—they were the same age, from Warsaw, were among those young Polish Jews who survived the war in Russia, and he too was imprisoned in a labor camp, and returned after the war, only to find that his family was gone. And like your mother, he carried the pain of those losses for the rest of his life. I have for a long time tried to understand the shape of my father’s life both before the war and during the war in Russia, and your mother’s story, better than anything else I have read, helps me to do that. There is relatively little written about this group of “survivors” who are often not officially classified as “survivors”.
If my father was any indication, many never took on the “survivor” label, believing that those who stayed in occupied Poland were the true survivors. But as your mother’s story documents, this group suffered quite horribly. They faced years of hardship, uncertainty, dislocation, lack of information about their family’s whereabouts, and were under the thumb of arbitrary Soviet officials. Although they were less likely to be singled out as Jews than those who suffered under Nazism, they were certainly outcasts among the outcasts of the Soviet regime. (There is, I am told, a growing interest among historians and museum curators in this period, and of the fate of Polish Jewish refugees under Stalin. Maybe you already know this.) I appreciated the vignettes at the beginning of each chapter in which she reflects on the past from the perspective of the present. Your mother was truly a remarkable woman, one who was extremely perceptive about what she had gone through, and with your help, and with the passage of time, was able to construct a narrative of her wartime losses. I hope that this memoir finds a larger readership, and I thank you very much for sharing it with me.
Al Filreis. Kelly Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Memory Is Our Home reminds us of a truth the holocaust sadly confirmed: traumatic total loss creates an absence that can only be retained as memory, and that memory is best made back into a presence in thoughtful words. Diaries such as Roma Talasiewicz-Eibuszyc’s are this particular memory’s mother tongue. Suzanna’s relatively recent discovery of her mother’s writings is a miracle for all of us who do not want to break the chain of witness.” http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis
Inge Auerbacher. Holocaust survivor, author, and Inspirational Speaker.
If we do not have memory, we do not have a future. We build our lives upon the foundation of our ancestors. We must learn from the past and never forget it. The history of the Jewish people often has been soaked in blood, and yet we rose from the ashes to build new lives, and make for all a better world. We must preserve all the stories of not only our tragedies, but also our incredible successes in so many fields. I congratulate you for your work to inspire all the new generations to come.
Janice Eidus. Novelist, short story writer, and essayist twice won the O.Henry Prize for her short stories, as well as a Pushcart Prize, a Redbook Prize, the Acker Award for Fiction, and numerous other awards. Author of The War of the Rosens, and The Last Jewish Virgin. http://www.janiceeidus.com/
In this haunting and brave book, Suzanna Eibuszyc bears witness and pays tribute, through her mother’s journals that she has lovingly and beautifully transcribed, to what Jewish families, especially women, endured in Poland before, and during, the Holocaust and in its aftermath. Eibuszyc’s mother’s story is compelling and poignant; it will both move and educate readers. This book deserves – cries out – to be published, and published soon, and well.
Marcy Dermansky. http://www.marcydermansky.com/ Author of novel Bad Marie a Barnes and Noble Fall Discover Great New Writers pick. Time Magazine pronounced Bad Marie “irresistible.” “Deliciously wicked,” proclaimed Slate. “Bad-ass,” said Esquire Magazine, naming Bad Marie one of the top novels of 2010. Marcy’s first novel Twins was a New York Times Editors Choice Pick: “A brainy, emotionally sophisticated bildungsroman-for-two.”
“This book is such a tremendous accomplishment. The small details of your mother’s survival constantly amazed me. I find that the more I think I know about the Holocaust, the more that there is still to learn”. Powerful in its simplicity, the pages are all about the smallest things – the details about finding shelter, surviving cold and hunger, and how much a person can take. The interplay of the 2G voice is also powerful, with a new perspective that is also simple and straightforward in the telling of survival. It says so much, too, about a decision to bring daughters, the 3G to Poland. The importance of not forgetting, or ensuring that the Jewish legacy survives, that the Jewish culture and contribution to Poland are not erased.
Elaine Leeder. Dean Emerita School of Social Sciences, Professor of Sociology, Sonoma State University www.mylifewithlifers.com
“In a moving and touchingly written fashion Suzanna Eibuszyc tells the story of life before, during and after the Holocaust in Poland. By weaving her own story with that of her mother’s survival Eibuszyc touches us with the sweet memories as well as the haunting details of victimization and overcoming enormous obstacles for three generations of Jews in Europe and then the US. This is a book to pick up if you want to remember the past and look for hope for the future.”
Atina Grossmann. Professor of History, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Cooper Union, New York teaches Modern European and German history, and women’s and gender studies. She holds a B.A. from City College of New York and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Her new book, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton University Press) won the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History from the Wiener Library, London. http://cooper.edu/humanities/people/atina-grossmann
A deeply, moving and historically rich account of a Holocaust story common to many survivors but still little known and documented offers a vivid and intimate portrait of a working class Jewish childhood and adolescence in Warsaw, highlighting the significance of class and gender, as well as political conviction and religion in Polish Jewish life during the interwar years. The second half of the manuscript follows young Roma through her flight to Soviet occupied eastern Poland after the Nazi invasion of 1939 and her struggle for survival in Soviet Central Asia, a harsh exile that nonetheless –and ironically – proves to be Polish Jewry’s single best chance for escaping the catastrophe that engulfed East European Jews during the second world war. This is a tale of hardship and endurance, recording the chaotic conditions in Bialystok in 1940 as the local Jewish community and Soviet authorities attempt to cope with the influx of refugees from western Poland, the trauma and confusion of separation from loved ones left behind in Nazi occupied territory, the desperate search for news and contact, the flight south into Uzbekistan where Roma works in factories, encounters the pains and pleasures of romance under wartime conditions, struggles to find adequate food and medical care, and is tormented by anxieties about her family, and finally the shocking repatriation to the “vast graveyard” of postwar Poland.
Beshert is among the very few English language memoirs that recount what remains – astonishingly – the great untold story of the Holocaust: the remarkable fact that the majority of those Polish Jews who managed to survive the Holocaust did so, not only in the death machine of Nazi occupied Europe, but in remote corners of the Soviet Union. Their dramatic experiences have been marginalized in the historiography and collective memory of the Holocaust, deemed less tragic and central than the stories of the ghettoes, camps, hiding, and partisans. Roma’s meticulously written memoir, which combines historical background with personal reflection, helps to rescue this story from obscurity and thereby offers truly groundbreaking insight into the history of World War II and the Holocaust.
Myrna Goldenberg. Professor, English Department at Montgomery College, About twenty-five years ago, she invited Holocaust survivors who live in Montgomery College region to tell the community stories of their experiences during the Nazi era. Myrna’s first book reflects her research interests, women, and the Holocaust. http://ww2.montgomerycollege.edu/news/04/pr04-41.html
“I found myself so moved by your mother’s story that I have had difficulty writing about it without sentimentality”. Suzanna Eibuszyc’s translation of her mother’s diary is a searing account of a family destroyed by the Nazis and the Soviets. BESHERT traces what it meant to be a young Jewish woman from a poor family during that dark period. Through Suzanna’s narration of Roma’s diary, we feel the poverty of the squalid Jewish section of Warsaw. Roma, the youngest of 6 children, is orphaned young and, with her sisters and brothers, barely survives the disease and hunger of Warsaw between the wars. She describes the 1939 bombing of Warsaw, street by street and building by building as she and her family barely escapes the attacks. The author’s gripping account includes details about political factions among the Jews, the risks Jews took to avoid capture, the difficulties of staying connected to family, and the persistent hunger. Against a background of despair and inevitable deportation, we meet teenagers who try to live normal lives. They are thwarted by rigid class differences as well as by the war. Nevertheless, Roma tries to find comfort and even love. We witness what she witnesses—the secret abortions and deliveries in the midst of the Nazi campaign to murder Jews. Roma’s escape to Soviet Russia leaves her with unresolved guilt. Her return to war-torn Warsaw in 1946 compounds her anxieties. Eventually, she emigrates to the United States and builds her family. BESHERT is a vividly told story of Polish Jews who suffered the oppression of both Hitler and Stalin.
Dr. John Z. Guzlowski. Professor Emeritus, Eastern Illinois University, is the author of Lightning and Ashes, a verse memoir about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany.
History is more than numbers, more than the story of how one war started on such and such a date and how it ended on a different date. History is about what a child feels growing up in the poverty of Post-World War I Poland. It is about what it is like to feel fear the day the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. History is about what it means to stand on a street and know that this street will take you to a concentration camp from which you may never return. History is about how one woman survives the return to her home after a war that has left her country in the hands of the Soviet Communists. This is the history that Suzanna Eibuszyc shares with us in her moving book Memory is Our Home. Combining excerpts from her mother’s diary with her own memories of stories her mother shared with her, Ms. Eibuszyc has created a work that will move every reader with the truth of what those years between 1917 and 1969 were like.
Rabbi Barbara Aiello. Serrastretta, Calabria, Italy, http://kulanu.org/italy/aiellosouthernitaly.php
Memory is Our Home is an important book for many reasons, not the least of which is that our Holocaust survivors, older and more fragile as the years go by, soon will no longer be with us. As one historian starkly reminds us, “the twenty-year old who survived Auschwitz is now nearly ninety.” This means that for us Jews specifically and for humanity in general, we are about to lose our eye-witnesses – something that could reduce the memory of the Holocaust to the back pages of history. That’s why Suzanna Eibuszyc’s efforts at not only recounting her mother’s story but her determination to share it with the world are so vitally important. In the vast library of Holocaust literature, several books hold our attention and Memory is Our Home is one of them. Ms. Eibuszyc tells her mother’s story with words that touch our hearts and create an indelible album of what happened to one family and how Nazi horrors shaped their lives. As our survivors pass on, Memory is Our Home will live in our hearts, reviving the spirit of those who suffered so while superbly maintaining Holocaust literature in the place of prominence it deserves.
Aaron Elster. Aaron is a child survivor of the Holocaust; “I Still See Her Haunting Eyes” is a memoir of his survival. He currently is serving as Vice President of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Aaron, as a Ten year old, was able to escape the liquidation of the Ghetto where most of his family was sent to a death camp in Treblinka. Living on his own, he was hiding in barns and forests.
Roma’s story reads like a Jewish version of Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt. There are so many similarities between his heartbreaking Irish life and hers. Roma’s life starts in a poor Jewish neighborhood in Warsaw. It describes her devastating experience of the German invasion of Poland and the harrowing experience of surviving Stalinist Russia from 1939 to 1946. Roma’s memoir is very compelling, it pays special attention to the physical, emotional and cultural conditions associated with the First and Second World War. It highlights the notions of sacrifice, determination, loyalty and love in various forms. Yet, her life’s story is not all doom and gloom. Although, she suffered unspeakable cruelty she is able to forgive. Even in the midst of total desperation she was always able to find a glimmer of hope. It is my firm belief that it will touch the lives of all who read this amazing story.
Rudy Rosenberg. After attending the 1991 first meeting of the Hidden Children in New York, he decided to break his silence and wrote his first book “And Somehow We Survive” and started to lecture to show that he had indeed survived.
The Memoir of Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc Lovingly translated from the original Polish by Suzanna Eibuszyc, her daughter, fascinates from the early paragraphs.Roma was forced to abandon all she had known for her own self-preservation. All her friends, siblings and relatives vanished. Only Roma survived to be the witness to life as it was between the two World Wars and to the utter destruction of Warsaw in the few weeks after the German invasion of Poland on that fateful September of 1939. With the “peace” of total destruction descending upon her land began the systematic horror of the Holocaust that would soon annihilate what was left of the world of her infancy. The story of a young Jewish person in the maelstrom of what it was to be caught up in Poland between the end of the First World War and the onset of WWII. It gives the impression of Roma being the sane center in the middle of millions of ants scurrying about trying to survive in the face of incredible odds. When “normalcy” finally appeared, the greatest calamity was about to descend upon her people and her land. Roma’s brushes with love and romance that did not blossom into full flower as Roma sacrificed so much in her attempt to keep her orphaned family together are told realistically without ever becoming Maudling. Book one ends with Roma seeking the “safety” of the Soviet Union where a rough awakening will surely await her. It leaves the reader anxious and impatient to read the second volume that is sure to unveil Roma’s disillusions with her “safe haven” in the Soviet Union. Rarely has a book been written that pencils so bleak a portrait of the Poland that had been cloaked in the secrecy of life under Germany’s iron fist. Even for those who lived those years in the rest of occupied Europe it presents an unfamiliar, stark black and white vision of hell.
Anne Lukawiec Lukas. Anne has been active with Kol Israel Generations, a Cleveland organization for families of survivors for the past 25 years, and as president for the past several years. She founded the Paralegal Studies Program at Notre Dame College and at Ursuline College. Anne started teaching a course on the Holocaust and started taking students and others on Jewish-Christian Journeys to Europe.
I was heartened to learn about Beshert -It Was Meant to Be, by Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc, translated from the original Polish by Suzanna Eibuszyc. It provided so much explanation and historical understanding that for the first time, I have a palpable understanding of my parents’ complicated and poverty-stricken lives in Warsaw and how they endured their many hardships in Saratov and Uzbekistan. The writing is especially helpful since it allows us to appreciate the activity as well as the emotions Roma experienced. The descriptions of life in the various places answered so many questions about how people coped with the loss of family and friends, uncertainty, unrelenting labor, diseases and displacement. I plan to keep a copy of this book as an “heirloom-reference book” for my family to read so they can have a fuller understanding of our family history.
Judy Weissenberg Cohen. Survivor / Witness / Writer / Poet / Editor Women and the Holocaust Her website is dedicated to the Women who: were murdered while pregnant. Holding little hands of children or carrying infants in their arms on the way to be gassed, in hiding, to the mothers who gave their children to be hidden, many never to find them again. http://motl.org/survivor-story-judy-weissenberg-cohen/
This is an important autobiography, the kind one seldom finds nowadays. Through the prism of the youngest of six sibling’s memories and observations, first as a child then, as an astute young woman, we witness her constant struggles, dashed hopes, occasional joys of accomplishments, meaningful friendships, and her strong family ties within the warm embrace of her family. As Roma says, “in the glow of the Shabbat candles, Mother looked down at the potato soup and then up at us.’Poor but always together, like a mother bird with its newborn babies in a nest,’ she said. The warm feeling I got from her reassuring words is still with me today.” This would be a helpful compass through much of her life. Roma takes us through the historical era starting just after World War I, when she was born to the early months of Nazi Germany’s invasion, atrocious bombardment and oppressive occupation of Poland. This also signifies the start of the persecution of the Jewish people in Poland, leading to their total demise. It is a rare intellectual treat how Roma eloquently intertwines her personal and family history with the prevailing general socio-political conditions and popular workers’ movements of the Jews in Poland.
We learn in minute details, without them becoming dull or boring, what life was like for her poor working-class family with a widowed, single mother who together with one son became the main breadwinners till some of the other children reached 12 years of age. These children were forced to leave school to be exploited child labourers to supplement the family’s income. Her descriptions are so vivid that one can actually touch the poverty and feel her immense loss when her mother dies – twice.
As the description of the political situation in Poland unfolds in her fluid style, one can keenly sense how the laws and anti-Jewish edicts affect the daily flow of their lives with every sordid detail mentioned. She masterfully infuses the astonishing hardships with some lighter aspects of a working-class girl’s life, including personal life; the ambition to better herself, to learn, to belong, to be active politically; the measure of intimate, private satisfactions, and even affairs of the heart where social class status painfully intrudes. Roma tells the readers about Polish politics, the benign era of Josef Pilsudski with its blessed benefit to the Jewish community, how the socialist revolution in Russia had an influence on the Polish and Jewish working class including some of her siblings, and a glimpse into the social class structure in the Jewish community itself. We learn about young Roma’s Poland and what motivated young Jews to get involved by joining the Socialist Bund, considered then the most progressive Jewish workers’ political movement, and some leaving it when their economic and social circumstances improved.
“September 1939 was not only a turning point for Poland, and the world, but for my personal life as well,” begins Chapter Ten. In the last two chapters, with meticulous attention to historical and personal particulars, she describes Poland’s surrender to Germany, and its special, lethal effect on the Jews of Poland. This was definitely the beginning of the end of her life, as she knew it then, and that of her family. It is described with all its painful and heartrending details. She is conscience-stricken about the idea of escaping, just as a short term plan. However, her fear of the unbelievably vicious German brutality (especially the effect of deprivation of food in the Jewish community) as she observes it daily, trumps fidelity, and her plan is ready. Roma’s last memories of the final good-byes with her family members are unforgettable, especially, the painful parting with her beloved, young nieces and nephews. Her immensely courageous determination to flee is mitigated by two of her single siblings’ last minute decision to escape with her to the Soviet occupied territory in Poland. Roma Talaszowic-Eibuszyc has written a most compelling and illuminating memoir. In her straightforward style, she encompasses life in its totality. It is highly recommended.
Dr. George Halasz. Member of the Editorial Board of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry and since 2005 the Editorial Board of Australasian Psychiatry. He has written/co-edited three books, many chapters and journal articles that deal with ADHD, trauma transmission, child psychotherapy and ethics, spirituality and religion. http://kavod.claimscon.org/contributor/halasz-george/ http://kavod.claimscon.org/2016/01/beshert-it-was-meant-to-be/
There is a famous Chasidic saying ‘In the End is the Beginning’ which I had in mind as I read Suzanna Eibuszyc’s refined translation of her late mother’s moving memoir Beshert – It was Meant to Be. The end of each handwritten word penned in Polish by her mother, in her Los Angeles apartment, became a new beginning of her daughter Suzanna’s translation. Her mother had fulfilled her daughters’ request to write about her life as a Jew in Warsaw from 1917. ‘My daughters have convinced me to write about my life.’ And what a life! As I read the book it occurred to me that Beshert – it was meant to be – is the expression used by deeply spiritual people as a way to endure the sometimes unbearable lot that life casts our way. And Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc surely drew on her spiritual sensibility to endure, survive and commit her experiences as testimony, a legacy for her daughters and grandchildren. Her diary is deeply personal, her style at times left me feeling as if I was with her in her apartment ‘ I am putting my pen down and walking around my apartment, my thoughts flooding my mind, there are so many. They come and go too quickly for me to capture them on paper. Paper, as always, is patient and will wait.’ I wished I was there to reassure her that such agitation is normal. It is what we call ‘traumatic flash-backs’.
I have never read a more honest description which she no doubt endured over the years, before and during the writing of her diary. That she had a natural gift for learning foreign languages goes along with her gift writing a heart-felt testimony, extraordinary experiences spanning over half a century, the years leading up to the Second World War and after, to her new life in America.
The side-by-side story of the past and the present, contrasting the ‘cheers, excitement and optimisms that the people of New York generate’ around New Year reminded her of the dark clouds at the outbreak of war in 1939, Poland. Living in constant fear, no place to run; moral dilemmas between family loyalty and self-preservation, decisions no one should be forced to make; how the most important Jewish Holy Days Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sabbath all were extinguished with the untimely death of her mother.
But here is another level of this past-present side-by-side story. The daughter, who recognized the need for her mother to go ‘back in time’ brought her comfort and torment. It was obvious there had never been any closure for my mother made me wonder why we would expect closure in one generation after such massive trauma. I was reminded of an interview a decade ago I started with Daisy Miller, herself a child survivor, then working for the Visual History foundation in Los Angeles, which later recorded over 50,000 Holocaust testimonies. Daisy asked me why I wanted to interview her. I said I wanted to learn about how child survivors healed their trauma. Daisy’s previous warmth suddenly transformed into a cold stare, with a steely voice she confronted me: ‘George I’m really disappointed in you (as a mental health professional), do you really think that we can be healed?’ In an apologetic voice, ‘No’ was my reply. ‘So why did you say it? Maybe you could put the question another way?’ she encouraged me. I returned with ‘maybe to see how you can repair the trauma.’ She smiled and our recorded interview started. The lesson I learnt from that encounter was the need to be most thoughtful about how and what experiences we language when speaking with survivors and their next of kin. So I was very moved by the brutal honesty in Suzanna’s description of her family life – ‘Growing up in the shadow …Sometimes I was sympathetic. Other times I was filled with contempt. I was angry, and overwhelmed for being connected to my mother’s ongoing grief.’ Later to add that, ‘To this day I do not have any emotional attachment to holidays, but now at least I understand how this disconnection came about.’ So it is with the inherited trauma across the generations.
The detachment her mother needed to make with Jewish holidays is passed unknowingly to her daughter who learns the reason through the act of translating her mother’s diary. Thus, it was with surprise that I read Suzanne ‘huge regret was that I did not get to translate her memoir while she was still alive. We never had the chance to journey and emerge together from her trauma.’ Now, as someone who had the good fortune to travel to Auschwitz Birkenau with my mother on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camps, I have learnt that it is not really possible to ‘to emerge’, either individually or together, from the massive trauma endured by survivors. Rather, I now believe that at best we incrementally repair such trauma, neither to emerge nor heal the trauma. I believe it is through the acts of remembering, whether while survivors are alive, or after their passing, that this critical act of repair may takes place.
In the case of translation, I believe that Suzanna has followed in her mother’s footsteps which she described as ‘at great risk to her safety and sanity that my mother entered the world she suppressed for so long. ‘Like her mother, reading this remarkable translation, is ample testimony to her daughter’s equal measure of courage: to enter that world, to enjoy the legacy bequeathed to her and her daughter to live with hope in the future. That is how it was meant to be in the end, the beginning of the new generation – it is Beshert.
Dr. Dina Ripsman Eylon. Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal. Author: Reincarnation in Jewish Mysticism and Gnosticism Songs of Love and Misgivings.
Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc has written a most compelling and illuminating memoir. In her straightforward style, she encompasses life in its totality. It is highly recommended. In a decade when the last live testimonies of the Holocaust are vanishing swiftly, Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc’s memoir tells of Jewish life during the horrible reality of the Holocaust. Roma felt strongly that she had to pass on her legacy, and I believe likewise that it is beshert (meant to be) to resonant with large audiences before these memories fade completely from their consciousness.
Rita B. Ross. author, Running from Home.
One wonders what the need to write another World War II memoir is all about. Suzanna Eibuszyc, in her translation of her mother’s diary, makes it eminently clear as to the need for yet another memoir. Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszc in Beshert-It Was Meant to Be recounts, in exquisite simplicity and detail, what it was like to be Jewish in post World War I Warsaw. With meticulous attention to detail, the author paints a rich background of the political climate where the poverty, hunger, fears, courage, and daily survival of the Jewish person is challenged. The youngest of six children, Roma’s mother, widowed at an early age battles to make a life for her family. She shares with the reader the strength of her mother’s will to keep her children alive. She introduces her five siblings and how hard they worked to stay alive, remain together and take care of each other when their mother died suddenly leaving six young orphans. Eibuszyc keeps the historic perspective current in her descriptions of the family’s plight. By the time World War II comes to Warsaw, the stage has been thoroughly set. The memoir resonates deeply in everyone whose life has been touched by events beyond their control.
Bruce Black. Founder, The Jewish Writing Project. https://jewishwritingproject.wordpress.com/
It’s one of the most moving pieces that I’ve had the honor of sharing on The Jewish Writing Project site, and I hope you’ll consider expanding it into a longer memoir of your experiences as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. The world, I think, needs to hear your story. Many thanks for sharing your work with the project.
Thanks for sharing 🙂