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.