Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors by Bernice Eisenstein

I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors distills, through text and drawings, including panels in the comic-book format, Bernice Eisenstein’s memories of her 1950s’ childhood in Toronto with her Yiddish-speaking parents, whose often unspoken experiences of war were nevertheless always present. The memories also draw on inherited fragments of stories about relatives lost to the war whom she never met.

Eisenstein’s parents met in Auschwitz, near the end of the war and were married shortly after Liberation. The book began to take root in her imagination several years ago, almost a decade after her father’s death.

With poignancy and searing honesty, Eisenstein explores with ineffable sadness and bittersweet humour her childhood growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust. But more than a book about the Holocaust and its far-reaching shadows, this moving, visually ravishing graphic memoir speaks universally about memory, loss, and recovery of the past.

No one who sees this book will not be deeply affected by its beautiful, highly evocative writing and brilliantly original and haunting artwork created by the author. I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors is destined to become a classic.

“I am lost in memory. It is not a place that has been mapped, fixed by coordinates of longitude and latitude, whereby I can retrace a step and come to the same place again. Each time is different. . . .

“While my father was alive, I searched to find his face among those documented
photographs of survivors of Auschwitz — actually, photos from any camp would do. If I could see him staring out through barbed wire, I thought I would then know how to remember him, know what he was made to become, and then possibly know what he might have been. All my life, I’ve looked for more in order to fill in the parts of my father that had gone missing. . . .”

—Excerpts from I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors
I have no idea why it has taken me so long to read this book. I remember seeing a review of it back when it was about to come out in paperback, so I knew I was going to have to read it, and soon after that it entered my house. I just never got around to actually reading it! Then, earlier this month it was brought to my attention that my dh had never seen Schindler's List! I was shocked, to say the least. I am the first to admit that there a lot of movies I should have seen that I have never got around to watching, but I think everyone should watch Schindler's List. We of course ended up watching it (I own it, of course), and he said that he liked it, so then I had the Holocaust on my mind. When I was rearranging my books, I noticed this one and decided that now was as good a time as any to read it.

I have never been able to grasp the idea behind the Holocaust. It is something that I have heard about probably my entire life, and I cannot believe that it actually happened! I know that it did occur, though, I am not one of those people that does not believe it happened. I think that the experiences of World War II were horrific enough to hear about, so when you add these events on top of it, I think I am glad that I did not have to live through what they had to live through. There is no Jewish blood in my immediate family, so short of books and movies, I have never had anyone tell me their experiences during that horrible time.

Bernice Eisenstein is the daughter of parents that were both involved in the Holocaust. They actually met near the time of liberation and married soon afterwards. Her father rarely said what it was like to live during this time, he would just tell bits and pieces that she would have to make a full story out of. Her mother did an interview for some archives, though, so she heard what her mother had to say. Using pictures and words, Eisenstein speaks of her parents past and how it affects her. She was obsessed with the Holocaust her entire life, so I suppose it is fitting that she writes another book to add to the growing collection.

If you haven't read this book, I do recommend. I think it could probably count as a graphic novel, so something to keep in mind if the challenge is repeated next year. She is a fantastic prose writer and she has created haunting pictures that I believe will stay with me for some time. While it is a short book, not even 200 pages, it packs a punch and will get you thinking.

Thanks to McClelland & Stewart for this book!


  1. This is a book I will be interested in reading. Thanks for the review.

  2. This sounds like something I'd love. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Kailana.

  3. It was worth the read! I hope you both get a chance to read it!

  4. Anonymous12:42 PM

    Definitely one I'd like to read... Enjoyed the review, thanks.

    Schindler's List was a brilliant movie! Have you seen the promos for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, took my breath away...

  5. I know, that movie looks fantastic... I am totally intending to see it when it comes out!


Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

I am so sorry, but I turned anonymous commenting off. I have had it from the very beginning, but that is how the spam is getting by my spam filter at the moment. If it is a big deal I will turn it back on and moderate all comments. I also changed moderation from older than 14 days to older than 7.