Monday, August 2, 2010

Where She Came From: A Daughter's Search for Her Mother's History by Helen Epstein 1997

"[T]his book is more than a family history. It is a moving evocation of an old world and its destruction." from a review by Ruth Gay in the New York Times, November, 1997

In this very readable, and extensively researched memoir, Helen Epstein focuses on three generations of women who preceded her: her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother.

Epstein, born in 1947 in Prague to parents who were both survivors of concentration camps, started writing this memoir after her mother died in New York where the author grew up.  She had felt incredibly close to her mother at the same time that she sought distance and a better understanding of her mother’s early years. That led her to want to know more about the lives of her grandmother and great-grandmother.

Epstein went to Central Europe – to Prague and Vienna and to the villages where her family had lived earlier and spent time in archives at town halls and in cemeteries, tracing her family in those records that she was able to find. Of course it helped immeasurably that she could speak and read Czech although she had much help from archivists, friends, and relatives she tracked down in Europe, Israel, and America. 

What’s particularly interesting in this memoir is the historical background and cultural history Epstein includes which situates each generation in its time and place. We see how they spent their leisure and work time. Her mother and her grandmother were both expert seamstresses, her grandmother having established a business, Salon Weigert , that attracted a wealthy clientele until the Nazis forced them to give it up and then deported them. 

In telling their story Epstein spends considerable time talking about the status of being a Jew throughout the generations in Prague and the surrounding areas, commenting about how assimilated her parents and many in their generation were. She examines their reaction to the advance of Hitler and their having to confront the fact that they were not like other Czech citizens, however much they had always felt they were.

This memoir includes photos and an extensive bibliography.

To read a July, 2010 interview with Helen Epstein about her family history with particular reference to her book Children of the Holocaust, click here.

Maternal grandmother’s family
Abraham ben Samuel – assigned name Furcht; great great great great grandfather of author
        Jakub – grandson of Abraham
        Lazar – grandson of Abraham; married Josephine; author’s great great grandfather
            Therese Furcht – his daughter; married to Judah Sachsel; author’s great-grandparents
                Heinrich – Therese’s son; perhaps not Judah’s
                Rudolf – son of Therese and Judah
                Leopold – son of Therese and Judah
                Emil – son of Therese and Judah
                    Peter Scott (changed from Sachsel)– their son
                Josephine (Pepi) – daughter of Therese and Judah; married to Oskar Weigert and then Emil           Rabinek; author’s grandmother
                    Frances (Franziska) – daughter of Josephine and Emil; married to Pepik (Joe) Schon (Solar); 2nd husband Kurt Epstein
                        Helen – author, daughter of Francis and Kurt; married to Patrick Mehr
                            Daniel and Samuel – her sons
            Joachim Sachsel – brother of Judah; author’s great uncle
            Rosalia Sachsel – sister of Judah; author’s great aunt
                    Gisela Saudek – distant cousin of Frances

Maternal grandfather’s family
            Israel and Franziska (Fanny) Rabinek
                Gustav – their son
                Leo – their son
                Gisela Kremer– their daughter
                    Erna, Berta, Clara, Felix – Gisela’s children
                Gabriela Roger– their daughter
                        Margaret – married Alphonse Hirsch
                Emil – their son; married Josephine Sashsel; author’s grandparents (see above)
                Helena Rissova – distant cousin of author
            Lev Vohryzek – father of distant cousin Kitty
                Kitty Egererova; his daughter – distant cousin of author
                    Miki – her son
 Ilse Aichinger -a Rabinek cousin of the author
 Lily Hearst (Emil Rabinek’s niece)
    John Hearst -  Lily’s son; married to Jean
Vava Schon (Nava Shan) – cousin of Pepik (Joe) Shon (author’s mother’s 1st husband)
Franzi Petschek – relative of Kurt Epstein (author’s father)

Friends, Acquaintances, and sources
Jiri Tichy
Charlotte Janu
Jakob Kaufmann
Leopold Kompert
Dorothea Schlegel
Rahel Varnhagen
Henriette Herz
Fanny Lewald
Fanny Neuda
Sigfried Kapper
Stefan Zweig
Leopold Hilsner
Moric Schiller
Frantisek Langer
    Jiri Langer – Frantisek’s son
Franz Kafka
Ernst Pawel
Hermine Hanel
Jan Zidek
Bertha Fanta and Ida Freund - sisters
Zuzana Nagy
Leo Oppenheimer
Honza Pollak
Margot and Arthur Korbel
Dr. Karel Steinbach
Rabbi Richard Feder

Places and Institutions

Brtnice, the former Czechoslovakia
Iglau, Germany (becomes Jihlava, the former Czechoslovakia)
Vysocina, the former Czechoslavakia
Prague                            “
Kolin                               “
Brataslava                        “
Barrandov,                        “
Roudnice-nad-Labem        “
Breslau, Germany
Celle, Germany
Vienna, Austria       
Salon Weigert, Prague
Concentration Camps: Terezientadt, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belson, Birkenau

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