Monday, November 3, 2014

In This Dark House by Louise Kehoe 1995

"An extraordinary, well-told story of a brutal childhood." from a review in Publisher's Weekly 10/1995

Louise Kehoe has written a suspenseful memoir that is difficult to discuss without giving the “ending” away. The cover of the soft cover edition states that this memoir won the National Jewish Book Award, so to some extent as you read, you suspect the outcome, but it isn’t until you get to the last fifty pages that the Jewish content is revealed and discussed.

The memoir focuses on Kehoe’s immediate family, but most specifically on her brilliant, mercurial, autocratic, abusive father, Berthold Lubetkin, a forward-thinking, well-respected architect. Lubetkin and his wife abandoned London in 1939 as World War II was revving up in England, relocating to a farm in rural England where they raised their three children and kept them isolated until each went off to college. Her father, who was both an atheist and a communist, when pressed, said he was a Russian immigrant, educated in Warsaw, the son of members of the nobility who lost everything in the Russian Revolution and that Lubetkin was an assumed name. That was all he would ever say about his background and family.

Over the years the author tried to pry more information out of her father who refused to cooperate except to write a short account of his life that seemed to aim at obfuscation. It wasn’t until he died – he outlived the author’s mother – that Kehoe was eventually able to unravel his story, based on documents and photos he left behind in a yellowing envelope that she found in the back of his closet.
Suffice to say that although her father’s background and circumstances do by no means totally explain his treatment of his wife and children, when we learn his story, we realize, as did the author, that his survivor’s guilt and his shame contributed to his behavior. He insisted on keeping secrets which tormented him – they were debilitating and they scarred those around him as well. This memoir reveals the impact of the Holocaust on multiple generations.

To read an article about the children of survivors, click here.
To see a short video about Lubetkin, the architect and his politics, click here.

The author states that some names have been changed to protect some individuals’ privacy. It is possible that her brother and sister’s first names are not their real names. It’s also possible that the author has changed the first name of her father’s cousin, Mira Aaronovna Lubetkin.

Roman and Fenya Lubetkin
     Berthold Lubetkin – son of Roman and Fenya
          Victoria Lubetkin – daughter of Berthold
           Louise Lubetkin Kehoe – daughter of Berthold
           Robert Lubetkin – son of Berthold
     Zivia Lubetkin – cousin of Berthold
Aaron Lubetkin – brother of Roman
    Mira Aaronovna Lubetkin – daughter of Aaron

St. Petersburg, Russia
Warsaw, Poland
Brooklyn, NY