Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Inheriting the Holocaust

Inheriting the Holocaust: A Second-Generation Memoir

Paula S. Fass
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 210
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Inheriting the Holocaust
    Book Description:

    InInheriting the Holocaust, Paula S. Fass explores her own past as the daughter of Holocaust survivors to reflect on the nature of history and memory. Through her parents' experiences and the stories they recounted, Fass defined her engagement as a historian and used these skills to better understand her parents' lives.

    Fass begins her journey through time and relationships when she travels to Poland and locates birth certificates of the murdered siblings she never knew. That journey to recover her family's story provides her with ever more evidence for the perplexing reliability of memory and its winding path toward historical reconstruction. In the end, Fass recovers parts of her family's history only to discover that Poland is rapidly re-imagining the role Jews played in the nation's past.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4647-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. This fact has been inscribed in my identity since I was a child in postwar Germany, and almost all of my memories of that time are related to it. But my life has not been devoted to exploring this part of my past. Although I have spent my professional life studying history, only recently have I drawn this unique personal past into the spaces of what I call history.

    Most of my life I kept my personal past and the historical past separated. Nineteen years ago, I chaired the plenary session of the...

    (pp. 7-31)

    When I was a child, I thought there was no reason to ever go to Poland except for the diamonds. In one of his rare loquacious moods, my father told me that he had buried a large can containing diamonds deep in the ground in the Lodz ghetto. He had transformed all his money into diamonds to preserve it. It would enable him to start up again after the war. I wanted him to go back to reclaim his fortune. My sister and I even told him that we would go instead, if he would only tell us where to...

    (pp. 32-61)

    The old and the young were least likely to survive the ghetto, its many selections, or the final command to the left at the entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Both my parents had photographs of their parents, carefully framed and always on display in their bedroom. They are a vivid and indelible part of my childhood. I used to stare at these photos for hours to give them a kind of imagined life. In this sense I was a historian before I could read by using whatever still remained to reconstruct the past. I always knew that I did not have living...

    (pp. 62-84)

    Survivors are keenly aware of how diminished their families are. I was lucky. I had an extraordinary uncle, whose intelligence and character encircled my childhood and whose memory is an acute point from which I can trace my strongest commitments. My uncle Jerry never went to Auschwitz and never struggled through the experience of the Lodz ghetto. The youngest of the three surviving children in my mother’s family, Judah in Hebrew, or Jerzy in Polish, was born in 1913. Unmarried and unattached when Hitler’s troops occupied Lodz and its region in 1940, he was able to flee the city before...

    (pp. 85-108)

    As a child in postwar Germany, I had many aunts—Tante Edja and Tante Bella, Tante Bronka and Tante Henja.¹ All my mother’s friends in Hannover, where we lived as people removed from history, weretantes(aunts) to me. They were all from somewhere else, all fleeing memories of the day before. I called themtanteout of respect (just as I learned to curtsy) because they were adults and because we were very close, having created life anew with each other. But I knew even then that we were not related, that the kin group we created was connected...

    (pp. 109-119)

    The past was everywhere in my childhood creating memory tracks. There was the picture no one ever saw and the names no one ever uttered. These were the secret realities that lay behind the everyday in my house as I grew up. These unseen images and unspoken words haunted our lives—dead children, dead spouses, even more awful than grandparents who were unknown and unmet. Grandparents died, after all, even American grandparents, and my mother, too, had never known hers even without Hitler’s help. But no one I ever went to school with had siblings who had died. And what...

    (pp. 120-172)

    My parents’ very different pasts came together in Auschwitz. Different in character, in class, in outlook on life, all of this fell away as the Lodz Ghetto dissolved, and each confronted the aloneness of the camps, the aloneness of surviving, and the solitary need to reflect on what surviving would mean. One reads about survivor’s guilt, and, no doubt, both my parents suffered profoundly in this manner. My father never forgave himself for outliving his children, for failing to save them from doom. But the fact of surviving led also to other emotions in both of my parents, emotions ranging...

    (pp. 173-182)

    My mother and I were very close, so close that when I began to write this memoir I assumed it was more about her than about me. I now realize that this was an illusion, her life and mine were distinct and separate, and I could never compensate for the loss of her past. At best, I can reconstruct it haltingly and tentatively based on what she told me, what I learned from books, and what I experienced myself. Still, because almost everything I knew about her past, much of what I know about my father’s past, and a great...

    (pp. 183-192)

    I knew I would return, if only because there was so much more to understand. But when I did return with my husband, Jack, in the summer of 2007, Lodz had changed. Its aura as a city caught in amber, a fossilized kernel of my parents’ past, had largely disappeared.UlPiotrkowska was still there, as were the old houses and streets, but like many other parts of Poland, the city had moved beyond the postwar (and with it the prewar) into a new era. Part of the Lodz and Poland I had found seven years earlier was surely the...

    (pp. 193-196)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-197)