Goldie Morgentaler wrote this article about her mother, Chava Rosenfarb, whose accomplishments as a Yiddish novelist are often overshadowed by Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s (very important) advocacy for abortion rights in Canada.
Anyway, it’s a wonderful piece of writing in its own right and you should read it but mostly I’m posting this because I now desperately want to read The Tree of Life(and wish that I had my grandparents’ and father’s facility with Yiddish so I could read it as intended).
[Rosenfarb] was 22 when the Second World War ended. For the next 25 years, she would devote herself to writing The Tree of Life, a three-volume novel based on her experiences during the war, when she was incarcerated in the Lodz ghetto and later in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Sasel and Bergen-Belsen.
That experience left its mark on her, as it did on my father.
My father’s way of dealing with the trauma of the Holocaust was to pretend that he was not affected, to claim that he lived in the present and was not a hostage to the past, an attitude belied by his frequent horrific nightmares.
My mother’s way was to write about what she had lived through, to face the horror in order to come to terms with it. And, just as importantly, she wanted to memorialize the Jewish community of her native city of Lodz, which in five years of drawn-out genocide had ceased to exist.
She wanted the world to know what she and her community had lived through. Since this Jewish community had lived its life in Yiddish, she wrote about it in Yiddish out of fidelity to that lost world – a problematic choice, given that it limited the number of readers.
On one level my mother lived with her family as an immigrant in Montreal, took care of her ailing mother, who had also survived the war, and raised her children. On another she lived in the Lodz ghetto.
Within the Jewish community, so much of Yom HaShoah and Holocaust remembrance is politicized or used to invoke inept modern parallels, and outside of the Jewish community, stories about the Shoah tend to foreground goyim and leave Jews (and Rroma and other victims of the Nazi regime) as passive victims or objects within our own histories. To read the works of a survivor who made it her life’s work to preserve the memory of these communities not as victims or as the statistic of 6 million almost impossible to truly grasp but as people and to preserve the memory of what was done to them and what was lost feels important.