Sunday, July 21, 2019

Review: The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing

The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing The Survivors: A Story of War, Inheritance, and Healing by Adam P. Frankel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is pretty raw and very well written. Adam Frankel’s book is divided into 3 parts; War, Inheritance, and Healing. Each division is a fascinating part of his history and, besides the specifics, the theory can be applied to all of us. His hypothesis is that trauma affects many generations. This is explored in Part II.

Part I gives a brief history of Frankel’s Jewish maternal grandparents and their families during WWII, concentrating heavily on his grandfather, Gershon, his father, mother, brothers and sisters. There are horrors but the author assumes the reader knows enough about the concentration camps to not enumerate many of them. He provides facts relevant to the family which I am carefully avoiding who survives and who does not. What is of particular interest, however, is that Gershon, the author’s grandfather, is involved in something during his time in a Displaced Persons camp that, later, provides a small snapshot of why he and his wife emigrated from Europe very quickly and with the added expense of taking on new identities. This adds to the secrecy and the culture of never discussing what happened in Europe beyond the Holocaust. There were subjects that simply were not discussed. Zander (formerly Gershon) and family immigrate to the U.S., raise 4 children including Adam’s mother who meets Adam’s father and they get married.

Parts 2 is the bridge between the generation of trauma (Holocaust) to the author. He examines his family as he gains awareness that there is something different about them. He discovers that his grandparents chose a neighborhood that had other Jewish Holocaust survivors who carry similar characteristics. As an adult, he does his own research on trauma and epigenetics or how trauma is stored in the DNA. What leads him to this query is the dawning understanding that his mother is severely mentally ill. Her logic is skewed, her reality different, and her moods are traumatizing on Adam. It is during this time that Adam unravels the greatest secret that changes how he views his previous life - a trauma for him. He now has a before and after.

Part 3 is more of reckoning and accepting who he is and all of the past that shaped him. There is joy, pain, trauma, and healing. This is what makes us resilient. This part is really raw and the author must deal with the different generations of his family as he works through this yet mindful of Zayde and his relationships and history.

The book is deeply personal and the journey is quite an undertaking. Regardless of being such a personal story, I found myself underlining many AHA moments. One in particular is the idea that, if trauma can impact for generations, the counterpart must also be true. Healing will also impact generations.

One paragraph reminded me of an experience I when I visited a place called “Winter Quarters” on a church history trip fresh out of high school. Within a few steps of leaving the bus, a grief washed over me that was so heavy and visceral. I wandered alone for an hour, sobbing. A statue of a couple standing over a very small open grave brought me to my knees. My heart was shattered. I had no idea why. When we drove away, the grief lifted and I was back to myself. I was confused why I had fallen apart there.

Decades later I joined the crowd and started doing some genealogy. I stumbled upon a fascinating ancestor that crossed the plains at the age of 7. He lived a colorful an interesting life. After satisfying my curiosity of this intriguing ancestor, I was ready to stop reading when something caught my eye. Samual Alonzo Whitney, my ancestor, had left Nauvoo, Illinois with his mother, Henrietta, a recent widow, and his little brother, age 4. All were exposed to the elements and both boys were very ill. Henrietta carried one or both of them most of the 300 miles, arriving at Winter Quarters in a blizzard. 4 year old Don Carlos Whitney died three days later.

Was that grief written into my DNA? No other place has impacted me on that level although, ironically, Dachau came pretty close. Was it healing to my ancestors and descendants to recognize and remember Don Carlos?

Yes, the book is personal, but I found my own personal journey within the pages.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

View all my reviews

No comments: