In My Mother's Footsteps
In My Mother's Footsteps
I was eighteen when I learned that my mother had been born in Berlin, Germany. I only found out be- cause I was required to provide the information for the army, and the news shocked me deeply. How could she have hidden this from me for so long? Yet even then, we did not break our habit of silence about the Holocaust.
It has been over sixty years since these events happened to my mother, yet their emotional legacy has shaped our family in many painful ways. Most people like my mother survived only to suffer the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as they rebuilt their lives. It is everywhere, in everything. Even though most of her generation is now dead or dying, the trauma does not die with them. It continues on into the next generations. Neither life nor society equipped any of our family members with the tools needed to deal with it.
The only reason my mother wrote about her life was that my father, on his deathbed, asked her to do so. Several hours before he died, he gave her a partial outline of what he wanted her to write down. He made her promise she would do it. This was in January 1995. A year later, she finished the manuscript.
Later, as an adult, I began noticing that other people remembered more about their childhood than I did. My memories had gaps. I also noticed lapses in my emotional vocabulary that seemed related to the gaps in my memory. I started to ask myself why.
I began to see how my mother’s Holocaust experience had affected my experience of the world. I began to see how it affected even the simplest interactions. In order to do this, I needed to see firsthand what remained of my mother’s memories. My mother left parts of her soul in those places, and I intended to go back to collect them. I could only do this through intimate familiarity with the locations. And as I trained in photography, the camera was going to be a tool to help me see.
My mother passed away on November 14, 2006. This was two weeks after she had received the com- pleted book, and two-and-a-half years after I had set out to follow her footsteps. She wanted to speak but no words came out. I think she understood what I had done as much as I had understood what she had done. Over the following two weeks, she would call people up and tell them to go look at the book in her apartment, even though she was not there. This became very tough for her, because everybody who saw it wanted to talk to her about it.
I have moved to Berlin many years ago and made it my home. I live two streets away from where my family lived. Though my mother would object to that, I feel it was the best choice as I need to live my life and a big part of that is learning from her legacy. While the legacy is not simple, being connected to my family and my history is the only way I found to have my own life. I have vowed to no longer take my mother’s trauma that she gave me as my own, it is not and I will not carry it any longer. The cycle ends with me. I wish I could say I have finally reached the stage where I do not have to deal with the trauma my mother instilled in me. I have to admit, I am still not there yet.