Inheriting the Holocaust

National Memorial Holocaust Day falls on April 30th this year. I thought it befitting to review a book selection keeping this topic in mind. In Marianne Meyerhoff’s book Four Girls From Berlin: A True Story of a Friendship That Defied the Holocaust the author writes a stirring memoir of her mother and her three friends growing up in Nazi ruled Berlin. Marianne’s mother Charlotte (Lotte) is Jewish and her friends, Ursula, Ilonka and Erica are Christians.
Meyerhoff was born in America and grew up in Los Angeles with her mother Lotte as her sole family connection. Lotte the only person in her family to escape Hitler’s grasp. Marianne’s father survived as well but remarried after the war. He was not a significant presence in her life. Lotte was a proud American who maintained that she never wished to return to the homeland that rejected her. Traumatized by her past, Lotte was silent about the details of her early life in Berlin. Meyerhoff writes, “The lips of people whom war afflicts so often remained silent...”
Meyerhoff has always had an insatiable drive and determination to connect with her past. She wanted answers and details. She was compelled to fill in the gaps of her family history and strived to collect every bit of knowledge about her Jewish heritage. Meyerhoff muses, “What sort of future could I have with no sense of the past?” She managed to draw out some names from her mother but none of their stories. Then there was a break in the silence. There was an awakening for Lotte and Marianne when a box arrives from Berlin. The box contained a cache of family treasures. Lotte’s friends had risked their lives to collect and hide her family keepsakes. The box of mementoes fuelled Marianne’s curiosity. As a young woman, Meyerhoff eventually travels to Berlin and re-connects with her mother’s friends and their families. She gains insight about her own family history and finds herself adopting them as her own extended family.
The book is presented like a journal and a scrapbook all in one. It includes photos of family, friends and scenic locations like the Black Forest along with documents, letters and heirlooms. The author’s detailed dialogue scream out for a movie script which is no surprise since Meyerhoff also dons hats as both a director and producer for television and cinema. Meyerhoff’s research called her to become involved as an interviewer for Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust oral history project called Survivors of the Shoah.
The author’s family history is a story of persistent human spirit and enduring friendship triumphing in the wake of tragedy. The friendship between the four heroines withstood the tests of time, distance and the horrors of humanity. Meyerhoff writes her story as a plea for the victims of the Holocaust. The author sounds off about dwelling on guilt, giving forgiveness and the need for catharsis but stresses more the importance of acknowledgement and remembrance. All of humanity is responsible for the Holocaust. It’s a world of shame indeed. The children of Holocaust survivors have inherited both the history of the Holocaust atrocities and the legacy of silence. The author exclaims that we need to “break the silence with which history cloaks it’s violence.” If we fail to speak, teach and learn about this epochal dark period of “humanity” then the silence will continue from generation to generation. This reminds me of the popular quote from the philosopher George Santayana states “those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.”
Something to think about...
Wanda Lynne Young
Inheriting The Holocaust was published in the April '08 issue of Real Women Magazine in the Reader's Corner column.


Imagine having a twin sister. Now, imagine having a conjoined twin sister, a craniopagus conjoined twin sister at that!

In the fictitious novel The Girls author Lori Lansens introduces sisters, Rose and Ruby Darlen. Set in rural, southern Ontario, the girls are born in 1974 during a destructive tornado. Their unwed teen aged birth mother was passing through their town and eventually fled after giving birth to them. The sisters have separate bodies and minds, save for a bonding of their heads. After their whirlwind entrance into the world, Rose and Ruby are raised on a farm by Aunt Lovey, the nurse who attended their birth, and her husband Uncle Stash. The conjoined sisters or "the girls" as they are called, share an extraordinary but surprisingly ordinary life.

Lansen's intuition and imagination help her portray a sensitive account of the girls' shared life experience. The author tells each sister's story as a narrative memoir. The reader alternates from chapter to chapter, bouncing back and forth between both sets of eyes just like the way people look and stare at them. Rose is the writer and the avid sports fan. Ruby is the collector of native artifact. Rose is strong and carries the weight (literally) of Ruby, the sickly sister. Their personalities are very different which lead to conflicts and pinching episodes. Even with their different perspectives and distinct voices, the pair of inseparable sisters love, respect and support each other. They have jobs, experience love and sex, oh yes, and they live relatively normal existences despite their situation as they call it. At the age of 29, they get the distinct notoriety of being the oldest living craniopagus twins in history. The sisters struggle with their declining health and their impending demise as they race the clock to finish writing their book "Autobiography Of A Conjoined Twin" Rose hopes to make it to the ripe old age of 30 and Ruby attempts to plan a surprise birthday party for her sister. The lives of Rose and Ruby might make the reader rethink what it means to be independent, brave and strong. The girls are true survivors and heroines, determined to live life to it's fullest and not as sideshow freaks mind you! Rose muses, "There has never been a possibility of my being separated from Ruby. We have know it could not be, and declared that ever if we could, we wouldn't."

The author has strong empathy for her characters as she describes their lives, family, friends and neighbours. The characters are well developed and very believable. As a point of special interest, the author was born and raised in Chatham and also wrote the critically aclaimed novel Rush Home Road. She slips in the local charm and references locations and landmarks from her "neck of the woods". As I was reading, I just kept thinking that there's so many layers to Lansen's writing. Chronologically speaking, there's a bit more jumping around than I would have liked to have experienced, a sort of reading turbulance, but nonetheless a worthwhile read. Touching and hilarious at times, The Girls is like a rare flower or gem to be cherished and admired just like Rose and Ruby. Their connection isn't purely of a physical nature but a deeper, entwined meshing of their souls. How fortunate it would be to share such a bond! Whether a life is considered ordinary or extraordinary, just being human is our shared experience and we're all connected in some way afterall.
Something to think about...

Wanda Lynne Young

Tête-à-tête will be published in the March '08 issue of Real Women Magazine in the Reader's Corner column.