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'The tea set belongs in your family'

The tea set: What remains of my mother's childhood home On my first trip to Germany in 1991, I wondered whether there would be any physical evidence of my mother’s past. I wrote in Motherland, “What can remain of a family destroyed fifty-two years ago?” But the past has strange ways of inserting itself into the present. When we visited my mother’s dear childhood friend Mina in Germany's Oldenwald Mountains, ...

Trauma, from one generation to the next

In describing the legacy of the Holocaust, I wrote in Motherland that some of the most defining moments of my life happened long before I was born. They were the experiences “I never had, but couldn’t escape.” Now I know that that statement is true emotionally…and it could be true physiologically as well. Recent reports show that health and well-being begin in the womb. In fact, the life in the ...

The story of two abandoned synagogues

My mother’s town, Stockstadt am Rhein, had 2,000 people and only two Jewish families. On the Sabbath, my mother’s family walked to one of two neighboring towns – Biebesheim and Erfelden – where Jews from towns along the Rhein River gathered to form a small congregation. Decades after the Holocaust, all that remains of Jewish life in the two towns are the synagogues. In 1988, fifty years after Kristallnacht, "Night ...

Missing pieces

At a speech, I told students at Kennedy Middle School in Naperville, Illinois that when I was growing up, it seemed to me that my mother had divorced herself from her past. As far as I knew, she had no mother, no father, no cousins, no childhood friends, no stories, no family legends, no religious traditions. She never spoke of her early life and I knew I was never to ...

Life support for a book

More than 100,000 books come out each year. That means the competition for new authors is crushing. Most books die within three months of release, tossed onto the remainder table, ending their brief shelf life as tax write-offs for the publishing house. Several trends make the odds even longer for new authors. First, publishing houses play it safe by devoting their marketing dollars to authors like Sarah Palin, who are ...

My mother, the enemy alien

One Sunday over brunch several months ago, the family was having a political discussion about racial profiling. In her inimitable way, my mother turned to me and said, “You know, I was an enemy alien.” “What? When?” In recent years, my mother, who is now in her eighties, has begun to talk about her past, but I was completely shocked by this new revelation. “When I was 14-years old.” I ...
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