On this day, April 19, 1943

Ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto

In 1943 this day Waffen SS attacks Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto.

My family lived in France and I learned the history of the Warsaw Ghetto first hand from survivors I met as an adult. None of them are alive anymore, but they passed their memories to me, and for me to remember what happened and how it happened.

Why it happened is another question that I still am asking.

Sometimes, it feels it happened because the younger generations forget or don’t care about what is outside of their immediate preoccupations.

These images are in black and white.

Don’t they look alike images we see every day still? somewhere in the world?

Why should we not remember lest we repeat history?

We, Jews, may be annoying you with our constant remembrance of the Holocaust: denying that it happened is not only painful and offensive, but it is also criminal because it allows the world to become cruel, cynical and self-destroying.

Stories of the resistance are beautiful and inspiring. They are poignant and useful.

Remember. Share. Resist. Grow. Love.

The importance of knowing one’s roots

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Thursday, June 13, 2013:

How important do you believe it is for a person to know their roots?

I am sure that when you know your roots, you feel a sense of identity that gives you strength to go through life, which is never an easy thing. It helps feeling grounded, having a feeling of meaning. However, thinking of those who have very little way to find their roots – because they have been adopted for instance – and also thinking of those who might discover that they were born of a rape, this might be troubling to go back to these stories.

Roots - Systems by Aaron Springer
©Courtesy of Flickr – Aaron Springer

How important do I believe it is for a person to know their roots? I am not sure I believe it is important.

It is a personal inclination to see interest in such a search and knowledge. I believe it is important to take care of oneself, I believe it is important to know and follow rules to live in harmony and ethically with others, but apart from these things I believe are important, I am not sure I would rate knowing one’s roots as truly important: I don’t believe that you are unbalanced even if you don’t know your roots. The roots are certainly part of who you are, but if you choose not to know them, I don’t believe it makes you less or more of a kind. I believe this is part of an introspective quest, or search, or curiosity. It certainly would bring you lots of great insight, knowing your roots, and if you integrate this insight properly, it certainly can help you grow some personal assets, but I believe it is really like being interested in a subject matter, and not everyone is curious about this, and they still live very well without it!


Click for more posts of the series

How does going back to one’s roots feel like

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013:

What does getting back to your roots look like to you?

Going back to my roots is a way to  honor those who have come before me and basically made it possible for me to be who I am.

It looks like a pilgrimage sometimes, an arduous road with rocks that climbs to the unknown, made of strange emotions,  a mix of sadness for what is not anymore and a pride that can overwhelm the sadness and make me feel so alive, so thankful, grateful and inspired.

View of some rows of graves overseeing the beach of landing at the American Cemetery of Colleville sur Mer

I have experienced this three summers ago, when I had planned to visit my family back in France, and my brother invited the three of us for a week’s vacation in Normandy, with the goal of having the three cousins bond around their common roots, the American boys and the French one visiting the Normandy beaches of landing, and learn about their common history with the heroic and often tragic demise of the British and American troops who fought the German army on these beaches in 1944.

We had rented a cottage near Sainte-Mère-l’Eglise, and toured all the beaches each day, the museums and all the memorials that are on the roads at nearly each corner of the villages on the coast for miles and miles. History was alive under our feet. We went to the American cemetary in Colleville-sur-Mer and had the most moving experience, when my two boys, aged 13 and 15 silently stood, their baseball cup placed against their heart, in this so typically American posture of respect, that does not belong to the French culture at all, and I got the chills. With nearly 10,000 graves marked by white crosses, some of them adorned of a Star of David, the sight is chilling and solemn, the magnitude of the tragedy that unfolded is palpable. My son started to notice names of brothers, cut short in their lives in their twenties and our imagination could only venture at the surface of the pain that must have been endured.

Feeling how the sacrifice of those young men and women had allowed them to come to this world – had France not been liberated, it is very unlikely that their grand-father had met their grand-mother, given birth to their mother, and therefore they would not have existed… as simple as that.

Last summer, I took my youngest to the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris, and this time we said kaddish for my grandmother. We walked in the streets of Paris, in Le Marais, where I told him some of the stories of the area, that resonate so much for me. Less for him. It felt more like being a tourist in a city where the roots were not so obvious for him. Nevertheless, he chose to go on with going back to his roots and will travel to Europe and Israel this summer. I feel like I have passed the right heritage to him.

I may sometimes – pretty often in fact – feel like a fragile tree barren of its leaf in the wind, not knowing very well, if I will hold or fall and wondering if my limbs will weather the storms and the harsh winters, and then I remember that deep in the ground there are those multiple, often complicate roots, that hold steady and fast. I feel that if the ground is taken good care of, tended to properly, these roots will help my body and my entire being to strive, grow and multiply in a healthy way. It gives me strength and hope for the future. This is how getting back to my roots feels like to me.


See some of my other posts of the series:

Influencing culture

Family traditions

A family history

A family history

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Friday, June 7, 2013 – Prompt:

Tell us a story from your family history.

Wow. This prompt is leaving me with a blank.
I am not so good at choosing when the choice is too wide.
I chose to follow the prompts for that reason. The topic of “Roots” felt wide and vague enough for me to need the framework and the prompts seem to better offer that framework.

But then telling a story from my family history feels like going back to the ocean of the general topic of “Roots”. What story? Each day is a story, each person is a story. My mother wrote a book about her story, my father, upon my request, did so too, not a real book in his case, because he is a reluctant writer, so he chose to gather facts and piled them in a sort of chronology of how he went through his years before he got married for instance.

Then my mother also prepared fabulous photo albums after she retired. It is very time-consuming, so I am eternally grateful to her that she did so, and every time I visit – which is unfortunately only every other year – I enjoy going to those heavy books of pictures that she organized following some themes that are meaningful to her only in the beginning, but that I am ready to adopt to embrace her memories of her life, especially fascinating that I am in the stories of course! And that my recollections are tainted with another set of memories, or emotions, and that shows how we perceive events or reality through our own prisms always!

These are wonderful stories, sometimes painful stories too, that I participated in for the last parts at least (fifty-five years and counting!). The stories that took place before my birth have another flavor. I grew more fond of learning them as I am getting older: because I am more busy with my memories than when I was busy with my dreams and hopes. Because I have lost so many of the wonderful people who were building the possibilities in these stories also. Because I know better the value of the instant that I have let go so often, without paying enough attention to the story that was underlying and that was meaningful when it was unfolding.

Also, because I know how life can take it all in a split second: and what if no one was left to retell this or that story? I am a very anxious person, and my anxiety is growing with passing years, instead of subsiding into a more serene state of mind. I thought that working on building up memories that can last an eternity was a way to overcome the panic and the feeling that I could suddenly lose things forever.

I have come to believe that my profound anxiety stems in my history. There has been a lot of abusive events, enough to prove that I would be scarred and scared. I remember what a psychiatrist whom I had been in therapy with when I was younger had suggested to me, that being the daughter of holocaust survivor had certainly an impact on my psyche. Research has documented this since (see the footnote).

The thing with Jews, is that if you go back into their history, there is very likely a short period between succeeding traumas. The generations that lived before the Holocaust (or Shoah, as I prefer to call it – but that is another story – ) had gone through pogroms, or displacement, or if you go back again a quarter century, you’ll find persecutions, antisemitism, and destruction again, and again, enough to traumatize one generation over an other. This is one way of looking at the story. And then, there is the other way of looking at it: which is the incredible resilience, the everlasting rebuilding upon ashes that these families, mine, have accomplished in the face of these destructions and evil events. Yes, sometimes, I find a branch that goes dry, that is coming to a tragic end, but very often, another member of the same family has done differently and gone to recreate a burgeoning tribe. Also, some of the members who have been cut off from their roots, for different reasons probably, and lost their belonging to the Jewish family, often surprisingly resurrect their Judaism many years later and seem to go ‘back home’.

This is certainly the story that I would choose preferably to tell. How I feel profoundly and inherently part of a family, a very special family that goes back so far in time that I can’t exactly know when or where it really started. It gives me strength and solace, it gives me support and hope. It certainly depends on my belief system and faith, but even when I doubt and feel like I do not believe that much, it seems to have a way to catch me back, as if I was attached with a rubber band that is not drying.

I know that the best stories are stories with a happy ending. But when you talk about a family history what could be the ending? It is a never-ending story! It certainly is not a fairy tale, when we live happily ever after, after the events that took place dramatically in the tale, because there is so much unknown to what a family can become, but I am proud to be part of it, as little as my role could be in its unfolding, and as humble my words can be in their attempt to leave a trace in the sand for all to know about what we did and how we did it.

Footnote: Links in English on Trauma experienced by Holocaust survivors and their children

See my other posts of the series:

A sweet name

Genealogy and Family Trees

Three generations away


Random facts about my Judaism


This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Monday, June 3, 2013 – Prompt:

How many generations can you go back in your family?  What do you know about your oldest ancestors?

On my mother’s side, my grandfather was a Sephardic Jew and his name can be found in Chronicles (Chr I, 23-11) which kind of makes me pretty vain about it (being able to say that you trace my Yiddishkeit back to the Tanach, who would not feel a little proud about that anyway?). My maternal grandmother was coming from a prominent Lorraine family (ashkenaz) and they were already settled in Paris, France when citizenship was granted to the Jews right after the French Revolution(9/28/1791), so you can trace her family in the civil official registars back in 1792.

Random facts about my judaism

These are facts that I seem to have known always.
They are part of my family’s folklore, and being aware of the “mixed” origin (part sefardic, part ashkenaz) came later in my knowledge, when I became really interested in what my Jewish heritage was. Because it was not something that I remember being important when I grew up.

Obviously, generations before WWII did not mix up as much as they did after.

It feels like many generations lived in the same place for a very long time.
For instance in Paris.
And often in the very same area of the city, too.

Then, some of my ancestors, who were from Russia at the time of the czar, were probably forced to leave, as antisemitism was fierce and often deadly, but what transpired from the family folklore was never stories of pogroms, but rather the fact that this particular ancestor was a peddler, a very typical activity for an askenaz Jew of that time. I wonder what language he spoke when he made it to Eastern France, and if this is where he founded a family, or had left one behind.

Captain Dreyfus at the time of his rehabilitation
I know more about my great-grand-father from my maternal side, who had been a Colonel in the French army at the time of the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1906). For those not familiar with French history, there had been a war between France and Prussia (at the time) prior to that period, and my family (that part of the family) was already established as Parisians, where the war had created a famine. The family folklore says that they had to eat rats for protein. I do not know if it was true or a myth. What I remember is my grandmother boasting about it for her father like if it was heroic. Seems pretty intense rather. But I am sure it was also a way not to speak about politics, which had been such a painful and sensitive topic. It definitely shaped a lot of our political sensitivities and outrage.

On the paternal side, I know of the ancestors who had to opt for the French citizenship: there was a time when residents of Alsace and Lorraine where caught up in territories claimed back and forth between Germany and France. They chose the French citizenship, because the Jews could have it. And they seemed to feel happier in France: there even was a saying “As happy as God in France”, because Napoleon was favorable to the Israelites, and obviously they were supporting him back.

Folkloric stories seem to stop at the beginning of the XIXth century for me.
My imagination goes back much further though, and I sometimes have very vivid visions of the village my ancestors would have lived in back in the XIth or XIIth centuries! These memories were created by my readings, of course, and a propension to invent or believe that it comes from memories passed in the genes, who knows after all?