March 31, 2020

English professor writes Holocaust memoir

Due to the horrors of the Holocaust, a whole new body of literature has emerged in the world’s cultural spectrum. Masterpieces like “Night” by Elie Weisel and “The Diary of Anne Frank” have permeated society and left a lasting mark. Professor of English Ellen Friedman is attempting to connect with this literature with her family memoir, “The Seven, a Holocaust Story.”

She presented the first chapter of her memoir at the biannual Colloquium for the Recognition of Faculty Research and Creative Activity on Wednesday March 3 in the Mildred and Ernest E. Mayo Concert Hall.

The event, sponsored by the Faculty Senate, is an opportunity for professors at the College to share their scholarly work with their peers and guests. The Senate picks two professors to present each calendar year.

Friedman has connections to the Holocaust through her family, most notably her parents and uncles, many of whom survived the Holocaust from Warsaw, Poland. Over 35 years ago, she recorded interviews with her mother, father and two uncles about their experiences.

“(My family was) eager to be recorded,” Friedman said. “Some saw themselves as the stars in the next Hollywood Holocaust production. Others just wanted to bear witness.”

The first chapter of the novel, which Friedman read in its current rough draft state at the Colloquium, is about her uncle, Dove. Bouts of laughter filled the room as Friedman read about the old New York City taxi driver who survived the Holocaust by escaping to the Soviet Union with his family and decided that though he wanted Pierce Brosnan to play him in the movie adaptation of Friedman’s book, Jude Law would work better because he is younger.

She went on to talk about her father, who worked for the Soviet Union Secret Police, and her mother, who had no family survive the Holocaust. The rest of the memoir, according to the program, will include the stories of “the hidden child, the Hitler youth, the farmer’s daughter; my uncles and parents, who survived in the U.S.S.R.; and the — dare I say — “adventures” of the 7 people who traveled together through the Soviet Union (one went back and was murdered by Nazis, one was institutionalized with schizophrenia and has hallucinations about the S.S., one had an affair with a Russian General’s wife, 2 had typhus, 1 witnessed the liberation of Moscow, 5 witnessed the Berlin airlift.”

“They know I’m working on it and want to know when it will be published,” Friedman said of her family’s reaction to the memoir. “So do I. They think I’m taking too long. So do I.”

When asked why it took her so long to use the material recorded over 35 years ago (and some more recent interviews), she said, “I’ve been working on the material over the years but was sidetracked by progress on my scholarship. Now I am ready and have found my voice for this project.”

Michael Robertson, professor of English, who introduced Friedman, expressed his desire to hear the piece and joked that back when the College was mostly men who didn’t like to do research, they regarded Friedman’s efforts “the way Americans regard cricket as a harmless but peculiar pastime.”

“The story of Polish Jews whose lives were saved in the U.S.S.R. is not as well known as other stories,” Friedman said of the importance of her work, “stories of the concentration camps or Partisans or hidden children or the kindertransports.”

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