Confronting a Holocaust legacy
Reporter Erin Einhorn recalls casting about for her next big adventure: a plum assignment on another continent. She found it in Poland, Sweden and the U.S.; in interviews, archives, databases, phone books and graveyards. What she found was the intensely personal story of her family and of herself, one she recounts in The Pages in Between.
Einhorn grew up insatiably curious and suspicious about her mother's early childhood. Curious because there were so few details, and suspicious because her mother didn't seem to want any. Her mother, Irene Fydrych, was a Holocaust survivor. To Einhorn, the story of Irene's escape, concealment and double emigration was a tantalizing mystery; to Irene, it was ancient history. When asked about her early life, Irene recounted the same impressions in the same order, in the same words, never trying to remember more. So, using her journalistic skills, Einhorn embarked on a mission to fill the gaps, "the pages in between" the accepted oral history.
She was especially eager to find details about her mother's initial escape in Bedzin, Poland. In 1943, when Irene's parents were rounded up for deportation, the child was taken in by a non - Jewish family acquaintance. Einhorn always found it odd that her own family looked upon this woman with suspicion; after all, didn't she save Irene's life at her own peril? Apparently, however, Irene's father had offered the woman something in exchange. Could such a transaction be both calculated and heroic?In the midst of her travels and research, Einhorn must confront the loss of her mother, the endless contradictions of modern Poland, her changing sense of Jewish identity and above all the absolute unreliability of memory. The ultimate discovery could be that her investigative lens, though focused on her mother, gives a clearer picture of the investigator. The Pages in Between uniquely underscores an old irony of history: when we set out to learn about others in the past, we end up learning more about our present selves.
Joanna Brichetto received Vanderbilt University's first-ever master's degree in Jewish Studies.