Saturday, April 23, 2022

Q&A with Rita Benn, Julie Goldstein Ellis, Joy Wolfe Ensor, and Ruth Wade




Rita Benn, Julie Goldstein Ellis, Joy Wolfe Ensor, and Ruth Wade are the editors of the new book The Ones Who Remember: Second-Generation Voices of the Holocaust


Q: How did this book come to be?


A: This book evolved from original Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom Kippur services that a group of 16 second-generation members wrote for our Reform congregation in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


These services included liturgy interspersed with individual prose, poems and short literary narratives that described our parents’ incredible journeys of survival and adaptation to life after the war.


Because we saw the profound impact that our stories had on our congregation year after year, a group of us proposed that we write a book to share these experiences more broadly. 


Four editors, along with another member of our group, Myra Fox, sadly now deceased moved forward to craft an initial manuscript. We narrowed down the hundreds of narratives contained in our services into a first draft.


After consultation with a professional editor, we realized that while we had primarily recounted our parents’ history of loss and cruelty during the wartime years as well as our admiration for their resilience, we had kept private our own experiences of growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust.


We asked ourselves and our second-generation group if we were willing to reflect more deeply on the impact of this trauma and bring a more intimate perspective of our lived experience.


When we saw that there was very little published on the effects of the Holocaust on the second generation from a first-person perspective, and no works by an intentional community of adult children of survivors, we were further convinced of the imperative to write this book.


We were so very grateful that each group member embraced this introspective challenge. 


Q: Do you see common themes running through the various essays? 


A: All the authors in our second-generation group absorbed their parents’ sorrow and anxieties, irrespective of how much they knew or did not know explicitly about their parents’ Holocaust experiences. The outward need to be joyful and hide their own suffering from their parents was a commonly expressed theme.


The manner in which the individual lives of the authors were shaped by this pain varied. Nonetheless, each essay offers its own compelling view of an individual author’s search to find their footing and forge their own path in the world.


For many, the search for place or belonging seemed to be a common issue running throughout the chapters. How much we can attribute this need for “place” to be a consequence of the survivor’s family history or to a more universal truth of being born into the human family is a major question.


In all the contributors’ stories, we see many themes that relate just to the normative process of growing up: the struggle for individuation from parents, fear of not fulfilling their parent’s dreams and/or going against the grain, drive for achievement and success.


The reader will likely perceive themselves in many aspects of these essays.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: “The Ones Who Remember,” the first part of our title, was suggested by one of our contributors, Nancy Szabo. She had been talking with a friend who had been sharing her own personal history of growing up as an adolescent in Asia during a turbulent political time.


Her friend commented that she remembered a lot of the details of that experience, but her other family members did not. When she made the comment “I’m the one who remembers,” the idea for this first part of our book title “The Ones Who Remember” was born. 


This title was favored over a host of other suggestions offered to our group as a title.


The second part of the title, “Second-Generation Voices of the Holocaust,” was one we had been using for a long time as a placeholder through our many versions of the manuscript. It was important for us to emphasize this aspect of our voice. 


This full title signifies to me the importance of honoring our parents’ legacy through our own memories of lived experience.


In this book, we are preserving our parents’ stories in the ways that we remember and have come to understand its influence, thereby reconstituting a new recollection for our children, grandchildren, and future generations to come.


The memories reflect our telling. Our voices hold the fragments of our wounded pasts, the reminders to “never forget,” and the courage to look within, move on, and grow.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: We have many hopes.


First, we hope this book informs and educates readers about how the Holocaust affected communities large and small across Europe and the resulting impact of intergenerational trauma and resilience.


Second, we hope that the book motivates readers not to be silent in the face of oppression and to invoke the felt sense that we are all part of one common humanity to whom we must offer care and compassion.


Third, although the varied family life experiences depicted in each chapter demonstrate the ways in which the Holocaust affected our own suffering and our parents, we hope the readers see that from this adversity came the gifts of strength and fortitude, compassion, and tolerance.


Finally, we hope the post-traumatic growth and successes that we as the second generation have experienced will offer renewed hope and optimism to many others who are challenged by more difficult circumstances.


Descendants of survivors with family histories of genocides, violence, mental illness, or abuse, may learn further about the therapeutic impact that comes from reflecting and speaking of their experiences.


The power of crafting their story may serve to reduce their sense of isolation and internal pain and bring unexpected healing and personal growth. We hope that exploring our stories will both expand a reader's knowledge and touch their hearts.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Presently, the four editors are involved in piloting a six-session continuing education book series program with members from our congregation. In each session, several of our authors share their reflections around a particular theme that stimulates discussion.


Through this series, we are learning about the emotional impact that our stories are evoking in others. We are seeing them make their own connections and discoveries, and their feedback so far has been phenomenal.


This program will help inform us about next writing steps or programs we may want to take either individually or collectively.


We are also in the initial thinking stages of how to best create an educational resource that can accompany our book for use in high schools and undergraduate college programs.


And we continue to write and lead our Holocaust Remembrance services - this April will be our 18th year sharing this labor of love together.


The group is also exploring the idea of creating a curricular resource that consists of our previous remembrance services that other Reform congregations can use as a template in their communities, all of whom have second- and third-generation members. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Please visit our website ( to read excerpts from our book and browse through a wonderful photo gallery of our families, schedule a reading for your book clubs, library, or bookstore, and see where you might find us reading or discussing the book in the coming months.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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