Monday, August 29, 2011

Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir by Leslie Gilbert-Lurie 2009

"Bending Toward the Sun is a powerful memoir about survival and family. . ." from a review written by Anna Horner in the Baltimore Examiner 10/2/09

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie has written a memoir that captures her mother’s experience as a hidden child during World War II and how that trauma affected her mother’s life and the lives of her children and grandchildren. Gilbert-Lurie divides her story into three sections. The first she calls “In Mom’s Voice (1937-1960),” the second is “My Own Voice (1960-1997),” the third is A Joint Venture (1997-2008).

The author’s mother’s story is the most emotionally compelling of the three sections because of her traumatizing experiences during World War II. During 1942-1944 Rita Gamss and more than a dozen of her extended family lived in the attic of a Polish farmer’ house. She was five years old when they moved in and she remembers many details vividly. The ceiling was so low the adults could not stand upright, and there was no plumbing, heating or electricity in the attic. They could not talk above a whisper and had to keep their movements to a minimum. They had to rely on the farmer and his wife for food which became very scarce, and the farmer often pleaded with them to leave because in sheltering Jews he was jeopardizing the safety of his own family. Life was so difficult during their confinement in the attic that some family members became ill and died.

When, in 1944, they were able to leave, the children who had survived in the attic had stunted growth. Many of them crawled out and had to re-learn how to walk upright. Rita Gamss  returned with what was left of her family to her home but it was clear they could not stay - the family was not safe because the hostilities between the Russians and Germans were still being played out. What started then was a journey through many displaced persons camps where they scoured lists of survivors to find their relatives and where they tried to plan a future.

Eventually they made it to The United States from their last camp in Italy. Life in the states was difficult. Rita Gamss’ father was an Orthodox Jew and refused to take a job that required him to work on Saturdays. Rita was miserable at home with a step-mother she felt wasn’t interested in her. Eventually she met her future husband, married, moved to California and raised a family, but suffered from anxiety and depression, what many researchers now say are aspects of post traumatic stress disorder.

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s section is primarily about her relationship with her mother and her conviction that having grown up with a mother who had been so traumatized had affected her own sense of well-being. At various times both mother and daughter went into therapy and Leslie was most interested in the term her therapist used to describe the family life she described to him: he called her family “enmeshed.” The author's mother was always worried about her family's safety. Leslie grew up not wanting to leave home because she learned from her mother not to feel safe. She also lived with a lot of guilt and felt she had to protect her mother whose life had been so full of suffering.

In part III Gilbert-Lurie discusses her inquiries and research. She reports on her daughter's anxieties and  her interviews with her siblings and with cousins of her mother, including those who were still alive who had hid in the attic with her. Gilbert-Lurie and some of her relatives went to Poland to visit their families' homes and to meet with the wife of the farmer who had hidden them. 

This memoir includes many family photos as well as a family tree.

To listen or to read a transcript of an interview on National Public Radio with Rita Lurie and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, click here.

Author Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s mother’s father’s family
Ruchel Schiffman
     Paya Neshe Schiffman – daughter of Ruchel; married Aharon Gamss
        Tsivia Gamss – daughter Paya Neshe and Avrahom; married Libish Engleberg
            Lola Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish; married Mike Goodstein
                Barbara and Debbie Goodstein – daughters of Lola and Mike
            Miriam Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish; married Herbie Silver
                Sheryl  and Lori Silver – daughters of Miriam and Herbie
            Sally Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish; married Ken Frishberg
                Leslie Frishberg Wolfowitz – daughter of Sally and Ken
            Feigla Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish
            Paya Neshe Engleberg – daughter of Tsivia and Libish
        Benziyhon (Benny) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paya Neshe; married Dora
            Linda and Eddie Gamss – children of Benny and Dora
        Mordche (Max) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paya Neshe; married Sonia
            Benny Gamms – son of Max and Sonia
        Nachum (Norman) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paya Neshe; married Helen
            Josh and Arthur – sons of Norman and Helen
        Blima Gamss- daughter of Aharon and Paya Neshe
        Avraham Haim (Henry) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paye Neshe; married Chana
        Chaya Shaindl Gamss – daughter of Aharon and Paye Neshe; married Peretz
        Itzhak (Isaac) Gamss – son of Aharon and Paye Neshe; married Leah Weltz; second marriage to Clara Friedman
            Sandra (Sara) Gamss – daughter of Itzhak and Leah; married Milton Weiss
                Lauren Weiss Schneider – daughter of Sandra and Milton
                Karen Weiss – daughters of Sandra and Milton
            Rita (Ruchel) Gamss – daughter of Itzhak and Leah; married Franklin Lurie
                Leslie Lurie – daughter of Rita and Franklin; married Clifford Gilbert; author
                    Mikaela and Gabriel Gilbert – children of Leslie and Clifford
                Gwyn Lurie – daughter of Rita and Franklin; married to Les Firestein
                    Sydney and Noa Lurie Firestein – children of Gwyn and Les
                David Lurie – son of Rita and Franklin – married to Leila
                    Elijah Lurie – son of David and Leila
            Nachum Gamss – son of Itzhak and Leah
            Sam  Gamss – son of Itzhak and Clara; married to Pam
                Mike  and Karen Gamss – children of Sam and Pam
            Brad Gamss – son of Itzhak and Clara; married Nancy
                Ryan Gamss – son of Brad and Nancy

Author Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s mother’s mother’s family
Nuchem Weltz – married Surah Welz; second marriage to Simma
    Lea Weltz – daughter of Nuchem and Surah; married Itzhak (Isaac) Gamms (see above)
    Masha (Miriam) Weltz – daughter of Nuchem and Surah; married Abraham Seidelbach
        David Seidelbach – son of Masha  and Abraham

Author Leslie Gilbert-Lurie’s father’s family
Leo Lurie – married Gertrude
    Franklin Lurie – son of Leo and Gertrude; married Rita Gamss (see above)
    Buddy – son of Leo and Gertrude; married Renee
Rose – sister of Gertrude; married Rudy

Urzejowice, Poland
Rzechow, Poland
Przeworsk, Poland
Kanczuga Jewish Cemetery, Poland
Humenne displaced person’s camp, Slovakia
Linz Bindermichl displaced person’s camp, Austria
Cremona displaced person’s camp, Italy
New York City, NY
Chicago, Illinois



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