From classrooms to genetic testing, people have a fascination with discovering their origins. Many children have a desire to know who their parents were before starting a family—yet some parents do not have the words to explain what happened in their past.
Two new memoirs written by the children of Holocaust survivors not only shed light on a dark period of history, but humanize the sometimes difficult relationship between parents and children.
Seven years after the death of his mother, Malka, Stanley A. Goldman traveled to Israel to visit her best friend during the Holocaust. The best friend’s daughter showed Goldman a pamphlet she had acquired from the Israeli Holocaust Museum that documented activities of one man’s negotiations with the Nazi’s interior minister and SS head, Heinrich Himmler, for the release of the Jewish women from the concentration camp at Ravensbrück. While looking through the pamphlet, the two discovered a picture that could have been their mothers being released from the camp. To unravel the mystery, Goldman set out on a long and difficult path that led him to write Left to the Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Bargain That Broke Adolf Hitler and Saved My Mother (Potomac Books, 2018).
Joanie Holzer Schirm knew her father had narrowly escaped the Holocaust, but it wasn’t until her parents’ death that she learned the full story. In going through their belongings she found hundreds of letters, held together by rusted paperclips and stamped with censor marks, sent from Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, China, and South and North America, along with journals, vintage film, taped interviews, and photographs. In working through these various materials documenting the life of her father, Oswald “Valdik” Holzer, she learned of her family history through his remarkable experiences of exile and loss, resilience, and hope.
My Dear Boy: A World War II Story of Escape, Exile, and Revelation (March 2019) is a posthumous memoir born of this discovery. Schirm elegantly re-creates her father’s youthful voice as he comes of age as a Jew in interwar Prague, escapes from a Nazi-held army unit, practices medicine in China’s war-ravaged interior, and settles in the United States to start a family.