“When my grandmother died I did not go to her funeral.”
February 22, 2020 2:34 PM   Subscribe

The story of my grandmother confused people, especially Jewish Americans, who understandably assume that any story about escaping the war to the US is a happy one. But individual lives are more complicated than great sweeps of history, and while Sala was alone and frustrated in America, Alex and Henri went on to live gloriously successful lives in France.
I could never understand my grandmother's sadness – until I learned her tragic story by Hadley Freeman.
posted by Kattullus (13 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
A fascinating story - and her description of her grandmother's sacrifice as "a specifically female tragedy" resonates.
posted by jb at 3:46 PM on February 22, 2020 [6 favorites]

A very, very sad story.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:05 PM on February 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think these are are the kind of stories that need to be dug out and told. It's tragic that stories get lost over the course of just 2 generations. And Meanwhile, 41% of Americans now don’t even know what Auschwitz is. Also, so true about women's histories being nearly impossible to reconstruct because they are not publicly recorded histories. Freeman was lucky to tap into her father's generation before that too disappeared.
posted by amusebuche at 5:14 PM on February 22, 2020 [10 favorites]

Openly weeping by the end of the story.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:29 PM on February 22, 2020 [4 favorites]

This is really good. Thank you for posting.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:07 PM on February 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

You might want to peek into the USC Shoah Foundation. It's dedicated to preserving and teaching about Jewish Holocaust survivor testimonials. I just can't not drop this link to some people collecting and sharing this part of history.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:34 PM on February 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

This really struck a chord with me. My grandmother on my mom’s side had a very similar story.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:01 AM on February 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

...desperate to justify to herself the path her life had taken. If she loved them (her grandchildren) enough, if they loved her enough, then maybe it would have been worth it.
Oooof: though maybe not any kind of succor, I imagine there were/are more woman who can identify with this sentiment than anyone wants to admit.

A beautiful piece about the complexities of being alive/ being a woman in the late 1930's.

( this one line struck me: Fashion – like the movie industry today – was then considered a Jewish industry, ... I can understand/believe that the fashion industry of between the wars was considered a 'Jewish profession' but _is_ the movie industry considered a 'Jewish' industry today? By who? I don't doubt it, but I've never heard this. It strikes me as a generalization I was surprised made it past the editors.)
posted by From Bklyn at 6:43 AM on February 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

It was considered so during the Golden Age of Hollywood, certainly. That was aided by the fact that so many talented Jewish people in the European movie business fled from Hitler to Hollywood. The Nazis practically handed us the Golden Age on a silver platter.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:48 AM on February 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

My grandmother once told me that it's not possible to write poetry in English that is as beautiful as German poetry. At the time, I thought that was hilarious: German is obviously ugly and guttural, and who would think that German poetry was beautiful? But looking back on it, it makes me realize exactly how much my grandparents lost when they came to America. It's easy for me to understand the loss of their families and the loss of their sense of safety. That's obvious. But they also lost their culture and their language. They had grandchildren who ridiculed the things that they thought were the most beautiful things in the world. There was never, ever any possibility that they would go back. I don't even think there was anything for them to go back to. But I realize, as an adult, that America was never going to be comfortable for them, that they were always in some sense going to love the place and the culture they left behind, even though that culture turned on them in the most vicious way conceivable.

People like stories with neat endings: there is peril, and you survive it, and then we have our happy ending. But I don't think that any refugee story has a happy ending: there's always loss, and there's always ongoing trauma. That's true no matter how grateful people are to the places that take them in.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:32 AM on February 23, 2020 [17 favorites]

Thanks for this post. It's why I come here.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 11:34 AM on February 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Yes, thanks for posting this. What a story.
posted by praemunire at 11:49 AM on February 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Hadley Freeman was interviewed about her book for the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast, which you can listen to here.
posted by Kattullus at 5:14 AM on March 10, 2020

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