Friday, October 17, 2008

Q&A With Erin Einhorn author of The Pages In Between

A Conversation with Erin Einhorn

Author of The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One home

What was your motivation for writing The Pages in Between?

The Pages In Between was not a book I went looking for. When I left my job and my friends in Philadelphia to live in Poland for a year, I was mostly seeking adventure and perhaps the answers to some of the questions my mother had refused to address. But that was when I believed the past was a tidy narrative that awaited an easy discovery. I never anticipated how entwined it would be in the lives of the people I would meet or how quickly I, too, would become entangled. The only way I saw to get out from under the weight of that ongoing story was to try to write it down. I wrote the entire manuscript long before I ever knew I’d get it published. I just knew the story needed to be told.

Your book explores the divide that often occurs between memory and truth. What was your most interesting discovery about your family’s past?

The biggest surprise for me was how much I was able to find. My search certainly produced new questions and it surely cast doubt on many of the details of my family folklore—even on some details that I had always accepted as truth. I still have no idea whether my grandmother jumped off a train on her way to Auschwitz or was killed in the camp. But now I can tell you what she looked liked, the names of her parents, and the name and age of at least one of her siblings—and that she gave birth to a girl on February 24, 1942 (or at least that the documents say that she did). My mother’s only memory of her childhood in Poland proved to be false, but now I know the name of the orphanage where she stayed, the name of the social worker who took her to Sweden, and the date on which they made that trip. Somehow, the ability to fill in details that were always missing from the folklore makes me less anxious about the parts of the story that can never be known for sure.

Is there any part of the ‘myth’ of your mother’s childhood that you wish had remained intact?
Absolutely not. It’s always difficult for sons and daughters to contemplate that their parents led full and complex lives before we even existed but one of the joys of becoming an adult is eventually understanding these people who’ve so intensively shaped our lives. It pains me immeasurably that I lost my mother just as a fuller picture of her was beginning to emerge.

Your driving desire to help the SkowroĊ„skis seems to have been fueled at least in part by your mother’s untimely passing. How do you think she would have reacted to the situation?

I feel quite certain that my mother would have strongly opposed my getting involved in the property issues, but not because of any feelings that she had or didn’t have toward the family that saved her life. My mother was a very practical person and this was an impractical situation. And, like all moms, she was also a worrier. She wanted her children safe at home. I’m pretty sure if I had asked my mom for guidance on what to do, she would have told me to come home.

What else motivated your struggle to resolve the property issues despite the many obstacles?

To some extent, it was a handy distraction. In the wake of my mother’s death, it was something that let me ignore my grief and focus on something tangible, that I could convince myself was important. But I was also confronting an overwhelming landscape, a vicious and devastating war that destroyed so many millions of lives. It was far too much to even begin to contemplate, let alone understand. This was something I could do: One house. Two families. A few piles of dusty paperwork. It was much more manageable and helped me feel like I was at least doing something to right the wrongs of the past, even if I never really managed to succeed.

Your book provides a fascinating look at modern-day Poland, a country most Americans aren't very familiar with. What surprised you most about your time there?

This probably should not have surprised me, but I was constantly amazed by how intertwined Polish and Jewish cultures seemed to be. The foods are almost exactly alike (minus the pork) and so are the mannerisms and appearances. It makes perfect sense that after hundreds of years of sharing communities -- and recipes and ingredients – the two cultures would look so much alike. And yet many young Poles have developed a fascination with Jewish culture that I could never have anticipated. It was unsettling to find myself cast as the exotic ‘other’ in a country where I was surrounded by people who largely looked like me.

Do you think that in addition to being a holocaust memoir, The Pages in Between might change perceptions about Poles and Jews?
I would love to think that my book – or any book – could change perceptions, but some of these ideas are very deeply held and it may be many years before the deepest antagonism fades. The feelings of anger and betrayal that Jewish Holocaust survivors felt for their Polish neighbors was real and rooted in the awful choices they watched their former friends and neighbors make under the extreme circumstances of the war and the Nazi occupation. But the world has changed dramatically since then and little good can come from refusing to engage with future generations because of decisions made before they were born.

Why do you think it's important for the children and grandchildren of holocaust survivors to add their voices to the stories of the past?
There are several answers to this question and one of them is the obvious one: Because we’re what’s left. The last of the survivors in my family have been gone for several years, as is the case in many survivor families, so the task of telling what happened, of reminding the world, has fallen to those of us who will carry this legacy on into the 21st century. But there’s also a less obvious answer: Because we have the distance. If my grandfather had written a memoir, it would have been a searingly painful account of merciless bloodshed and relentless abuse, the work of a man unable to escape his past. My mother’s memoir would have been the story of a woman trying to flee her childhood and parents’ nightmares, a woman focused on her future to the exclusion of her past. By my story has had distance enough to reside in the present, to be informed by the past with an eye toward the future.

Do you plan on returning to Poland?

I have been to Poland almost every year since I first started traveling there in 2001 and expect to make many visits there in the coming years. The murky status of 20 Malachowskiego, my family’s house, remains unresolved and I don’t know when or how resolution will come. At least for the near term, Poland will continue to be an important part of my life.

*Thank you to Lauren Pires, Associate Publicist for Jane Wesman Public Relations, Inc for allowing me to share these Q&A's with you today.


  1. Sounds like an intriguing book, Bonnie. Thanks for posting this!

  2. This is a fascinating interview.

    I completely agree that it is important to get the stories down on paper because, sadly, the survivors will not be with us for much longer to tell their stories.

  3. Great interview Bonnie. This book has been on my tbr list for a while. I'd love to read it.

  4. Truly Amazing interview! I really am looking forward to read this book.

    thanks Bonnie for sharing it!

  5. I should be receiving a copy of this soon. I can't wait!

    I totally understand about finding out your family's history before it's too late. My mother's family was German and living in Germany during WWII. I know a little bit of the hardships they faced and that they did not want anything to do with the Nazis and ended up in a camp. I wish I knew more, but both of my grandparents and the uncle who was with them during this period have all passed.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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