On Essays, Soul Spilling and Survivors
April 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
While it would seem to the world that as a professional writer I spill my guts on a regular basis, I’m actually incredibly circumspect about what I share publicly. My other self, the marketing strategist, regularly lectures me to ignore my desire to share the painful and over-twee and to instead mind my brand when opening up in print. So I write about beauty. And I write about culture. And I examine modern cultural minutiae and try to understand what motivates people. And I try to find ways to help people in their business lives and every day strive to make people’s worlds slightly more amusing and hopeful. And I try to tiptoe through the misery and inequity in the world and instead focus on teeny, tiny ways to make things better. Happier. Clearer. Because the
collective clutter of misery in the world can be far too soul crushing.
Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day meant to commemorate the millions murdered by the Nazis. As a child of survivors I wonder where is the day celebrating the survivors? What about the ones who endured living hell and went on to create families and communities and lives filled with both magical and mediocre moments?
As the child of a child concentration camp survivor and a member of a family of survivors, I don’t need one day to remind me, every day is Holocaust Remembrance day in my world. I am a living, breathing, Holocaust memorial. After years of not discussing my familial pain, I decided to write an essay about it and submit it to my usual outlets. It was neither raw, nor overly emotional. What struck me most is how matter of fact I was about the facts of my life. And the fact that I didn’t much care if it was published or not. More than that, it was cathartic to talk about the ongoing struggle of survivors to be afforded dignity as they age. I spoke about the indignity of survivors trying to deal with the organizations that are funded by German reparation money and exist to aid them, who instead choose to victimize them a second time. There was no rage. There was no pain. Merely an airing out of a story that should be told over and over again until justice is meted out and not in insultingly tiny increments.
I’ve written and deleted tens of thousands of words over the years dealing with the particular pain of being what is known as 2G, the second generation of survivors. I wasn’t ready to share with the world the fact that as a very little girl in summer camp, I’d map out escape routes through the forests, just in case the Nazis came back for the rest of us. I felt too vulnerable to share the particular terror felt by children of survivors, that every time you kiss a family member goodbye, it could be the last goodbye. Or the fact that I almost exclusively dated tall blonde WASPs in the hidden hopes that they would save me, if it ever happened again. I never wanted to share the rage at feeling that even my most crucial moments, illnesses or heartaches were inconsequential, because really, how can you compete with the specter of your then eleven year old father being a slave laborer before being sent to a concentration camp? Or knowing that your name isn’t even your own, but rather one plucked from the mass grave at Auschwitz, where the first Rachel Weingarten was gassed before being obliterated in a puff of crematorium smoke. Or how after emerging from the hell that was cancer, you wondered why on earth people insisted on calling you a survivor.
But this time I hit send on my essay instead of delete. I felt as though I was sweeping clean some of the barbed wire cobwebs that pin me to a painful past. Still there, still somewhat rusty, but perhaps less oppressive.
In yearning to clear my life of extraneous clutter, I have to sometimes publicly explore my personal pain, the pain of a lost generation and wonder how people manage to forget.
Zachor. Remember. Not just one day a year, but every day. Not so that you live in the past, but so that the future can remain a hopeful place and not one crowded by ghosts demanding retribution.