Identity Theft: The Second Generation
It was as though Duncan and his kind had all somehow been resettled on
Earth from Planet Auschwitz, a universe unknown to astronomers and
beyond the sight of telescopes or NASA’s curiosity. Often these children
of survivors looked and acted very much like everyone else. But in their
most private and desperate moments, their eyes would become vacant,
their heads shaven, their skin reduced to mere bone wrappings, their
cavities suddenly unfilled and goldless. They breathed in the rarefied,
choking vapors of an atmosphere known only to their parents. What
had killed the survivors had somehow become oxygen for their children.
—Thane Rosenbaum, Second Hand Smoke
More than ten years ago, a man calling himself Binjamin Wilkomirski published a book titled Fragments, a memoir of his experiences in Majdanek and Auschwitz written as an impressionistic collage of scenes from childhood. The book was initially well received, both in Germany and in the United States, and Wilkomirski became something of a celebrity on the Holocaust circuit. He would appear on stage for readings wearing a tallis-like shawl and perform an adaptation of Max Bruch’ s “Kol Nidre” on the clarinet. At a meeting in Los Angeles for an organization of child Holocaust survivors, he publicly embraced a woman who, he tearfully claimed, had been a childhood friend of his in the camps.