Monday, May 17, 2010

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors by Bernice Eisenstein 2006

Trillium Award finalist, The Ontario government's award for literature

The author of this memoir, Bernice Eisenstein, born in 1949, is an illustrator by profession, so her memoir is as much art as it is text. She has created black and white drawings of all sizes to help tell the story of her growing up in Toronto, the child of Holocaust survivors. Yiddish was the author’s first language and there is a lot of Yiddish in her text. 

Eisenstein starts by telling the story of what she learned over the years about her father who grew up in Miechow in Poland and was deported to Auschwitz where he remained for eleven months until the camp was liberated. She then shifts to her mother who in 1995 agreed to a taped interview for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. Eisenstein talks about the experience of watching and listening to her mother on tape, of hearing the whole story for the first time. Her mother talked about having grown up in Bedzin, Poland, about being only fourteen when the war broke out, about being corralled into a ghetto and then being sent with her family to Auschwitz where she met her future husband as the camp was being liberated.

Eisenstein grew up knowing that her parents were tormented by all the losses in their lives, and it’s clear that she grew up feeling the burden of their past and that her life was shaped by it. Attending the 2003 10th anniversary of The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. to which survivors and their children were specifically invited, she was profoundly moved and gained a better understanding of her parents.

She artfully concludes the memoir with the death of her father, followed a few months later by the birth of her son. She re-creates the scene of her son’s circumcision, a rite that signifies his Jewish identity. The continuity of her family is reinforced in her naming him after her father.

To read an interesting interview with Bernice Eisenstein where she talks about the process of creating this memoir, click here.

Update - 9/27/2010: A representative of the National Film Board of Canada informed me that a film of this graphic memoir has been released. To see clips of the film as well as two interesting interviews with the director of the film, click here.

Father’s side of the family
Mordechai (Motel) Eisentstein – author’s paternal grandfather
Sarah – Mordechai’s wife; author’s paternal grandmother
    Bina (Binche) – their daughter; married Mintz
    Hanna (Chana) – their daughter   
    Barak (Ben) – their son; author’s father
    Regina  - Barak’s wife
        Sharon – their daughter
        Bernice – their daughter; author
        Michael – their son
Jacob (Yakov) – (Jack in America); married Jenny (Regina’s sister)

Mother’s side of the family
Moishe Oksenhendler– author’s maternal grandfather
Machele – his wife; author’s maternal grandmother
    Regina – their daughter; author’s mother
    (Jadzia) Jenny – their daughter
    Lemel – their son
Etta – author’s grandfather’s brother; her great uncle
Shifra – his second wife


Rakowitz, Poland
Miechow, Poland
Bedzin, Poland
Katowice, Poland
Bergen-Belsen displaced person’s camp
Toronto, Canada
Kensington Market, Toronto
Wasaga Beach, Ontario, Canada
Landskroner, Sweden

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