September 23, 2020

Professor discusses her family’s journey through Holocaust

By Michelle Lampariello
News Editor

Ellen Friedman, an English professor at the College, has been working since 1985 to combat the complications that come with passing on the memories of others by conducting interviews with family members.

These oral testimonies, intertwined with Friedman’s own words and thoughts, are the core of Friedman’s family memoir “The Seven, A Family Holocaust Story.”

In a book discussion and reading hosted by the College’s English department, Friedman spoke about her writing process and read a section of the memoir to a full audience in the Library Auditorium on Nov. 14.

“My family memoir, ‘The Seven,’ is an account of Holocaust survivors in their own words, as well as the post-memory effects they have had on the generations that followed them,” Friedman said.

In her family memoir, Friedman provides an account of Polish Jews who survived World War II in the Soviet Union — a population that Friedman feels is underrepresented in literature.

“(Polish Jews) contribute to Holocaust cultural memory, but also they then connect in a cosmopolitan way to the memories of millions of refugees and exiles going through these experiences right now,” Friedman said.

Friedman acknowledged how support from the College aided her writing process.

Friedman reads a passage from her memoir. (Kim Iannarone / Photo Editor)

“TCNJ has supported this project for the many years it took to get it done,” Friedman said. “During that span of time, I went from chairing the women’s and gender studies — now women’s, gender and sexuality studies — to returning to the English department, where beginning with Jean Graham (associate chair and professor of English), the English chairs have been very generous with department time and money.”

Friedman thanked the College’s administration for all of the travel grants, student and graduate researchers, hardware and software she has received, as well as the College’s librarians for the research they conducted on her behalf.

“I have had the benefit of an institution that has been very gracious to me,” Friedman said.

Friedman read the second section of the book, titled “Joseph,” to the audience. Joseph was a Jewish relative of Friedman’s who left Warsaw in 1939 for the Soviet Union.

“When I was 12, Joseph, the eldest of the three brothers in this story, grabbed my ass,” Friedman read. “I told my parents and they talked to him, and he denied having meant anything. After that, he stayed away from me, didn’t talk to me directly until I interviewed him for this book.”

Friedman detailed Joseph’s experiences during the German invasion of Poland, and how Joseph was later drafted to the Russian labor front.

“‘Before mine eyes I didn’t even know what happened,’” Friedman read from her interview with Joseph on the German invasion. “‘A lot of soldiers were killed right when they were running into the ditches. The shooting came from both sides, so a lot of us got killed, and meanwhile we were always going more to the east.’”

Students in Friedman’s capstone class, Postmemory and the Holocaust, were eager to hear Friedman’s comments on her memoir.

“I think it’ll be interesting to hear from her to see what she has to say about it in this sort of setting as opposed to what she would say in the classroom or what the book actually says,” said Emily Miller, a junior English major.

Hope Sirimis, a junior English major, agreed.

“I’m excited to have this conversation outside of the classroom and see how we can continue discussion about her book in class and see how it relates to the material we’ve been discussing throughout the year,” Sirimis said.

Friedman wrapped up the session by taking questions from the audience. When asked about how younger generations can shed light on historical family narratives, Friedman stressed the importance of communicating with older generations.

“I think it’s so important because that’s where the personal history is, and that’s where the inherited history comes from,” Friedman said. “I think it’s really important for your own sense of identity to know that history of your family.”

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