March 30, 2018 § 8 Comments
By Barbara Krasner
I drove to the Princeton Public Library through a heavy drip of snow for a lecture/workshop on writing about other people’s memories. The speaker was Ellen Friedman, author of The Seven: A Family Holocaust Story, a narrative based on oral interviews, travel, and archival research about her family’s migration east through the Soviet Union during World War II. I was prepared to take notes and participate in an interactive writing session.
But what I got, besides the $40 parking ticket since the meter I used apparently didn’t work, was a kick in the pants. As Dr. Friedman read from her first chapter, I was reminded of my great-uncle who also took a Soviet train east in 1939. He ended up in Uzbekistan-Bukhara and eventually, after the war, Palestine. Only he, and my maternal grandfather and one brother who came to America before the war, survived. I thought, too, about my paternal grandmother’s brother, Leib Zuckerkandel, who was sent to a Soviet labor camp from his home in Galicia, while his wife and daughters perished. Only Leib and my grandmother, who came to America in 1913, survived.
I took notes, but not about Dr. Friedman’s book. I made a list of actions to take: Contact Stan and Michael about the tenant registers—did they include my maternal grandfather’s shtetl? Contact Leib’s children to learn more about the labor camp and his memories. Contact anyone I’d been in touch with over the years who might have stories about our mutual ancestral Galician village. But could it also be that my reading of Noah Lederman’s The World Erased: A Grandson’s Search for His Family’s Holocaust Secrets, was reaching my brain at the same time?
I had insomnia. I spent hours combing Ancestry.com for my grandmother’s potential relatives. I had no idea Gustav Klimt painted a portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandel of Vienna. I knew from a conversation with Leib’s widow, Rose, that we were distantly related to these fin-de-siècle salon Zuckerkandels, originally from Hungary. A new vitality emerged about the memoir of my grandmother I’m writing, that is, the grandmother I never knew because she died years before I was born. Do I have events of my discovery in the right order?
I was in my hometown a day later, an hour north of where I currently live. I wanted desperately to drive to where my father and his family lived behind the corner mom-and-pop store just to count the number of stairs of the stoop on the side of the building.
Within a 48-hour period, I learned the following:
- Always use quarters and not your credit card in Princeton parking meters.
- Attend as many free workshops and readings as possible, especially those at local libraries. They will introduce you to more writers, more writing styles, and they offer inspiration.
- Develop your own action plan as a result of attending these sessions.
Next up, reading Dr. Friedman’s book, reading Mimi Schwartz’s When History Is Personal, reading a self-published memoir about a town close to my grandmother’s, and participating in a free, two-part memoir workshop at the Princeton Library. My quarters are all lined up.
Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a PhD candidate in Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Gratz College. Her creative nonfiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Smart Set, South 85, Poor Yorick, Jewish Literary Journal, Minerva Rising, and other publications. She teaches creative writing, composition, and history in New Jersey.