From Feb ’09 Spotlight: “I’m stunned by the role of the Holocaust in popular culture,” Erin Einhorn told me when I called her in New York to discuss her new book, The Pages in Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home. “Like using the word ‘Gestapo’ for someone who tries to take away your cell phone at a museum.”
Indeed, with her 21st-century, third-generation point of view, Einhorn is able to give Pages an intellectual rigor many-similar-sounding books have lacked. As a journalist, Einhorn has a healthy skepticism about eye-witness accounts; she’s forever seeking factual foundations, however inconvenient their truths may turn out to be.
Her family’s story, first revealed to the public in two acclaimed episodes of NPR’s This American Life, is as dramatic as can be. Just before they are transported from the Polish ghetto of Bedzin, the parents of a Jewish baby named Irena Frydrych entrust her to a Polish woman named Honorata Skowronska. Irena has strawberry hair and blue eyes, and using the instincts and skills she’s learned working the black market, Honorata stays one step ahead of the Nazis. Irena survives, as does her father, Beresh, and after liberation he spirits her off to America where she grows into a suburban Jewish wife and mother named “Irene.”
But after locking horns with Irene throughout adolescence, Einhorn decides to dig deeper into her mother’s past. Early in her quest, Einhorn finds a ghetto ID photo of her grandmother, Sura Leah Rozenblum, buried in the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Sura Leah was barely 23 years old when she died (presumably in Auschwitz), and this is the first photo anyone in Einhorn’s family has ever seen, Irene included. Certain now that more treasures await her in Polish archives, Einhorn is soon on her way to Krakow, a city suddenly flourishing anew as a result of its starring role in Stephen Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List.
Einhorn told me publishers were reluctant to issue “yet another Holocaust book,” but she prevailed: “This is an American story,” she told me. “We all come from somewhere, and my book shows what happens when you go back and really try to find out about your past.”
Einhorn’s appearance is the first program Spertus has planned for the suburbs since beginning its collaborative relationship with Nextbook last fall, so get yourself to the Skokie Theatre Music Foundation (7924 N. Lincoln Ave.) on Thursday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. to show your support for Nextbook, Spertus, and this important new Jewish-American author.
For complete program details, visit www.spertus.edu.