. . . As a child I yearned to know my grandmothers. As an adult, I still yearn to know them, seeking connection in continuity and context. Like an archeologist, I dig through the past, unearthing fragments, putting together the pieces in an attempt to envision what once was whole.
She came of age not in the thirties or forties but in the sixties. Jewish, born in America--Vietnam and Watergate are part of her history. A freelance writer, she is married and the mother of a daughter. Balancing the responsibilities of home and profession, she is like so many American women. But not completely, for, unlike so many American women, Rachel Federman Altman is the daughter of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust and emigrated to the United States after their liberation. Raised in freedom and security but with the Holocaust as her legacy, she is part of the "Second Generation," as the children of Holocaust survivors are often called. Thus she can identify with the comment that another child of survivors makes in Helen Epstein book Children of the Holocaust: "Our parents were not like other parents, and we children were not like other children."
Naming a child after a deceased relative is an ancient Jewish custom. It is a concrete way to ensure a sense of continuity from generation to generation. As the firstborn, Altman was named after her two grandmothers--"Ruchel . . . my father's mother, who died in the gas chambers, and Miryam . . . my mother's mother, who died before the war began." Wistfully, but not surprisingly, her life is intertwined with theirs. For example, she looks like her Grandmother Ruchel, but the resemblance runs deeper than that. It includes, her father says, Ruchel's "independent spirit, her rebellious