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I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors: Wondering Jew

Wondering Jew

Graphic novelist Bernice Eisenstein ponders the meaning of her heritage

Bernice Eisenstein’s first graphic novel is a rich, sinewy nugget of personal reflections and public observations. The title – I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors – lays out the theme but doesn’t begin to hint at the particular note of humour Eisenstein strikes, nor her self-deprecating charm and insight.

It’s impossible not to read I Was a Child as Eisenstein’s autobiography, a daughter of Polish refugees who settled in Toronto in the late 1940s. She writes the tome in the first person, draws her own likeliness as a child in a way that resembles the author’s photograph at the back of the book, and in many ways it’s a confessional.

The main thing confessed in an obsession: the Holocaust. The little girl on the page grew up with a black cloud over her head, which germinated like a vine to intertwine with her developing ego. Both her parents were prisoners of Auschwitz; in fact, that’s where they met, that’s where her father proposed to her mother with a ring she had found in the pocket of a coat and managed to save for months in her shoe. It’s a heavy load to bear, for them of course, but also for their daughter. The child is awed by the unspeakable darkness in their past, by the nightmares that haunt her father and the victimization they have suffered. As a Canadian Jew, growing up in a sheltered community in Toronto, no less, she knows none of the hate they have experienced. She struggles daily to somehow attain her own cultural self-justification.

I Was a Child offers an intimate voyage through a cultural reality that isn’t always visible to all, but that exists and affects countless nonetheless. How does a whole generation survive the emotionally crippling experience of mass hatred? How can the subsequent generation expect normalcy from them?

The answer Bernice Eisenstein offers through her delicate art and clever words is to build, nurture, observe and revisit relationships with one loved one at a time. Whether they are a child of the Holocaust or not.

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  • by Jacqueline Ettedgui - June 21, 2006, 10:36 am

    A touching book really worth reading. It touched a reality point of what poor Jewish people
    had to go through during these hard time.As a Jew myself i could strongly understand
    what the author of this book was trying to bring forward ; in a world at this moment filled with ignorance,racisim. Bernice Eisenstein wrote the truth about what happened to her and the truth about what happened to many other families of holocaust survivors.I would like to address this book to people who ignores what happened to six millions jews. Jews are human beings first ,like everyone else and did not and do not deserve to be treated in such ways.
    I think its awesome that this author wants to touch base with what might seem to be invisible to others but does exist. Let try to open up are horizon, learn more about others pain and what they had to go through as people and believe me it will somehow diminish a little more racism.It doesnt matter what religion you are . What should matter is that we should live are lives in peace! I strongly encourage people to like Mrs.Eisenstein to write their own autobiography.We need to know ! We need not to forget!

  • by J L - June 22, 2006, 3:06 pm

    Wow! Short review but it seems like Ms. Einstein’s got a real horrific and emotional story to tell. There are hundreds even thousands of holocaust stories out there but most are too scary to say the least to recount. It might not be her own story but it’s mighty brave to write a book about horrible things your parents went through. Nobody should have to go through anything like that.

  • by Martin Dansky - June 24, 2006, 11:11 am

    Strange I recently picked up a copy of a book also by the Polish daughter of a holocaust victim who settled in Vancouver. Her story together with those written by other writers on the pressures that face newcomers to Canada who do not know the language and then try to integrate is particularly thought evoking. People should refer to such a book to understand how holocaust victims were treated and how that treatment carried onto their children. It didn’t end with the opening up of Aushwitz or other camps and the liberation of Jews. It didn’t end with their emigration to the new world. Kids were troubled by those experiences. Many a child today would feel vicitimized as a result of the racial hatred that was perceived directly, especially if they were children in the camps. And if not it would come through conversation on why Jews were outcasted and could not keep their jobs in Europe as Hitler came to power. Today much of the younger generation thinks the Holocaust is an exaggeration or that Jews are trying to rob center stage on the topic. If anything they have had the courage to create memorials, work on films and educate their young so as to pass the word that this should never happen again, not just for Jews but for any race. And yet holocausts are happening this very day because it’s easier to eliminate someone through violence rather than go to the bargaining table and work out a peace plan.

  • by Reuven De Souza - January 24, 2007, 11:45 am

    I was quite concerned that a graphic novel, however well done, would invariably do a disservice to such dark( and relevant) subject matter. Would there any sort of trivialization of such a dark point of time in mankind and his history. I was very glad to realize that my concerns were unfounded as Ms. Eisenstein, in her veiled autobiography, takes great care and has respect for the matters at hand. It is quite a sublime work of great emotion . And certainly, for a graphic novel, one that plumbs great depths of honesty and introspection. Certainly one of the greatest works of the genre.

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