Inheriting the Holocaust: A Second-Generation Memoir

Inheriting the Holocaust: A Second-Generation Memoir

Inheriting the Holocaust: A Second-Generation Memoir

Inheriting the Holocaust: A Second-Generation Memoir


In Inheriting the Holocaust, Paula S. Fass explores her own past as the daughter of Holocaust survivors to reflect on the nature of history and memory. Through her parents' experiences and the stories they recounted, Fass defined her engagement as a historian and used these skills to better understand her parents' lives.

Fass begins her journey through time and relationships when she travels to Poland and locates birth certificates of the murdered siblings she never knew. That journey to recover her family's story provides her with ever more evidence for the perplexing reliability of memory and its winding path toward historical reconstruction. In the end, Fass recovers parts of her family's history only to discover that Poland is rapidly re-imagining the role Jews played in the nation's past.


I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. This fact has been inscribed in my identity since I was a child in postwar Germany, and almost all of my memories of that time are related to it. But my life has not been devoted to exploring this part of my past. Although I have spent my professional life studying history, only recently have I drawn this unique personal past into the spaces of what I call history.

Most of my life I kept my personal past and the historical past separated. Nineteen years ago, I chaired the plenary session of the 1989 meeting of the Organization of American Historians. the session about history and memory included a large number of prominent American historians who spoke about their own memories of World War ii. I did not speak. I, born amidst its ruins, was the product of that war; my parents were among the very small remnant of the Jewish community of Poland who had survived Auschwitz and other camps. But my memories I then believed could not be included. Because I was born after the war my memories did not count. They were secondhand memories, inadequate to the task of reconstructing history. I was a responsible historian, and therefore I did not, could not, speak of my experiences of World War ii.

In this book, I have decided to speak and to share my memories because I now firmly believe that my memories do count. Certain . . .

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