I just finished reading “Love and Treasure”, a wonderful new novel by Bay Area writer by Ayelet Waldman. This tale was a compelling look into the conditions Jews faced in post WWII Europe, and also an insightful reminder of the plight of the displaced persons with no country or home to return to. Reading it resonated with my own purpose in writing the story of the search for my own mother’s past––a true account of a twenty year journey across continents and lifetimes to uncover the buried secrets and startling revelations of my mother’s life in pre-Nazi Leipzig, and her challenges after she fled her homeland.
In “The Woman in the Photograph,” (NOW HALF PRICE ON KINDLE THRU MOTHER’S DAY), I find a startling buried photograph and spend two decades filling in the omissions in my mother’s story. In Waldman’s book, it is a granddaughter’s search for the history behind a pendant taken from the train load of stolen Hungarian Jewish possessions after WWII. This brings to mind yet aanother wonderful and moving nonfiction book by Bay Area writer Marta Fuchs. “Legacy of Rescue” is the true story of how a Christian Hungarian army officer saved the life of her father, and how she and her family went back to Hungary to honor, and give material support, to the descendants of this Hungarian man who himself did not survive the war.
Whether fiction or nonfiction, all three of these books have something in common.
The link between these narratives is the desire to re-establish balance in the world, even if it takes relentless patience and many generations to do so. After finishing “Love and Treasure” I realized once again that my search was not just a personal effort to fill in missing details, names, date and events that pertain to my ancestors. This alone would not have changed who I am. It is the sense that whenever one of us can reconstruct a loss of history and pay tribute to those whose memory has been forgotten, than we all have a new foundation to understand our part in the living chain of evolution seeking conscious balance through time.
My mother could not reclaim the property taken from her through German Aryanization. Two generations later, that property became available to me and allowed me to buy a simple home in the East Bay. But beyond the material thread of restitution, and even beyond the longing for justice that cannot really be satisfied, when we know and communicate the truth of our histories, we arrive at a new place of resolution and acceptance that allows us, and our society, to move forward. Maybe that is also why we sometimes “play it forward” (maybe the expression is “pay it forward” but play fits better for me).We cannot always thank someone from our past who gave us support or did something that restored our trust in life. But we can offer our thanks in an action toward someone else today, a thank you passed on to restore balance.
How have you wondered about missing pieces of your family story. What have you learned and how has that changed you?
Please join Jim Van Buskirk and me on this Tuesday night, May 13, 7pm in San Francisco at the Jewish Community Library for a conversation on “Secrets and Revelations.” No charge for the event and parking is free too. For more info, see page 15 of catalog.