Reprinted from The J.ca:
“Along with the events and the trauma of the Holocaust, humour needs to be included in the narrative.”
“They survived a death march, now it was time to start living”. Bruria Lindenberg Cooperman’s mother is seen on the right at a post-war wedding in Italy | Photo: Courtesy Bruria Lindenberg Cooperman
The path to becoming an author about the children of Holocaust survivors was long and indirect for Bruria Lindenberg Cooperman, who told TheJ.ca “the first 50 years were a rehearsal.”
She had been “the wandering Jew – recently of Tokyo – before moving to Ottawa in 1993. At the age of 46, I had married every parent’s dream, a Jewish doctor!” Her decision afterward to get a Ph.D., which their daughter called ‘me-search’, began the path to her novel “For This I Survived? Children of Survivors Beyond the Trauma.”
For her thesis in 2002, she interviewed children of Holocaust Survivors living in a small city. “They were a minority within a minority living in a white Anglo-Saxon world. I wrote about negotiating the world around them, and defended the thesis”, but did not update her material into a book until last year.
“There was never a time I was not the child of Holocaust Survivors. I was the eldest. It took its toll on all of us. I needed to get our parents’ and our stories together.”
Bruria knew that the literature on this subject leaned heavily towards the pathology, describing parents and children who were paralyzed by the trauma. But, she explained, “I looked at life differently and I wondered if others had as well. I sent out e-mails. One person told another person who told another person – like the Breck commercial. The stories then and now were very similar. The Holocaust had seeped into every aspect of each one’s family in one way or another.”
In one interview a subject described it to her as living with “the ghosts that screamed.”
After 6 million Jews perished, the survivors carried the burden. Bruria noted, “Throughout the horror and the losses, it has been recorded that Jews did what they always did. They fought back. Some joined resistance groups, some acted out individual acts of sabotage, and some fought back with humour.”
And it was that aspect she wanted to explore.
“When I conducted the interviews, I knew that the stories would be of courage and resilience. Every story tells of miracles but there is also the humour, often in the form of irony and satire. Certain events are hilarious in the retelling. Jewish humour is commentary, sarcastic, biting and funny, the glue that has historically helped keep us together. Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning writes how he and a fellow Auschwitz prisoner told each other funny stories. It was their weapon against going insane.”
Although in keeping with Bruria’s nature, “I’ve used humour for absolutely everything – both good and bad”, it was an unorthodox approach.
“The eye-rolling and cringing was a reflection of people’s discomfort. Lately, however, especially after I wrote this book, people are sending me articles dealing with humour and the Holocaust. Books and films have begun to deal ‘seriously’ with the subject. Along with the events and the trauma of the Holocaust, humour needs to be included in the narrative.”
Sculptor-turned-author Bruria Lindenburg Cooperman based her new book, For This I Survived? Children of Survivors Beyond The Trauma, on her 2002 Ph.D. thesis
With the passage of time – most of those interviewed are in their 70’s and older, although one is 56 – the book reflects what they are now able to remember, and Bruria, a sculptor and mixed media artist focusing on paper and textile work, carefully reconstructed those memories into a lasting tribute to those survivors.
“Our Survivor parents survived degradations, cruelty, torture – and still, many were able to look at the world with hope. They even made jokes. This is their legacy, inherited by their children who also look at life through a special lens. Many referred to their parents as heroes.”
By overcoming the silence society imposed on these families after World War Two, Bruria says “Remembering and then sharing the stories keeps their parents alive. From this, they draw from their parents’ strength and resilience to move forward beyond the trauma.”
Copies of “For This I Survived? Children of Survivors Beyond The Trauma” are priced at $20.00 for paperback and $4, $18 for Kindle, and are available on Amazon at: