[ing names to the world for the first time” and, by contrast, the fear and shame that accompanied his youth as he struggled to perceive what his parents would not articulate: “No, the children are told nothing” (305).
This phenomenon is common to children of Holocaust survivors, known as the second-generation survivors. Psychologists and literary scholars alike have studied the second generation of the Holocaust (known sometimes as 2G) in order to understand how traumatic memories are transmitted within family units. Marianne Hirsch’s concept of post-memory, for example, gives us a way to understand how children can remember a trauma that happened to their parents and therefore preceded their birth. Erin McGlothlin’s 2006 study, Second-Generation Holocaust Literature, looks at writers from Art Spiegelman to Patrick Modiano (last year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) to understand the post-Holocaust “aftershocks” afflicting children of survivors.
A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz demonstrates that sense of emotional aftershock that, clearly, continues to haunt this child of survivors, seventy years after the events themselves took place.
Göran Rosenberg on Surviving the Survival
The Swedish journalist Göran Rosenberg. Photo credit: Cato Lein.
When Rosenberg presented his book at the UW last month, he concluded by reading from the book’s final section, “The Shadows,” wherein he reflects on the irony of the term “survivor”: “People who survive go on living, they don’t go on surviving. Surviving is normally not a continuous state but a momentary one” (277). Yet for Holocaust survivors like Rosenberg’s father, their state of still being alive continued to be the defining fact of their postwar identities in the eyes of others. That led to the inevitable, central tension in his father’s life: “…the step from surviving to living demands this apparently paradoxical combination of individual repression and collective remembrance” (279).
The book’s cover, a photograph of a 1955 black Volkswagen, becomes all the more poignant when contextualized within the difficulties that Rosenberg’s father faced on the journey to survive his own survival. Rosenberg writes of the car as something that would have been an unthinkable luxury during the war, “but in the new life in the new world, so many things that were unthinkable only yesterday are not anymore.” Purchasing the car—“the latest model”—was a sign of hope, a symbol that now, after half a decade spent desperately fleeing what seemed like inevitable death, his parents could now drive “nowhere in particular to unpack a picnic basket or a deck chair, or just see the world through the car window” (234-235).
Yet it wasn’t enough. The Project, as Rosenberg names his father’s chain of good-faith entrepreneurial initiatives, fell short. Despite the attempt to rebuild a semblance of normal life with his wife and two children, his father was unable to continue surviving.
Decades later, Göran Rosenberg, as a grown man, was compelled to get in his own car and painstakingly retrace his father’s wartime journeys from one hellish landscape to another, until he arrived at the small Swedish town and the house by the railroad station that his father had hoped would bring him peace. Part travel log, part elegy, part moral indictment, part howl of anguish, Rosenberg’s book is an evocative memoir captures the movement of two restless souls towards each other on the road from Auschwitz.