It’s eighteen months since I fulfilled a lifelong ambition and went to Poland to visit Auschwitz so that I could pay my respects to those whose lives were so brutally taken away. However, I must confess that I’ve never really considered those who lived in Lithuania. Consequently, on Holocaust Memorial Day, what better time to ask Dr. Ettie Zilber to stay in with me to chat about a book that has personal links for her?
Staying in with Ettie Zilber
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Ettie and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Hello Linda and thank you for the invitation to stay in with you today.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
It is a special day, as January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I have brought my book, A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America.
So what is A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America all about?
This book is all about remembrance, memory, history, reflection, human strength, courage and resilience. As children of survivors, it was important for me and my sisters to tie together our mother’s fractured anecdotes in a full and chronological testimony. We wanted to know the details, not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for our grandchildren. It is important “to remember” our history.
It most certainly is Ettie.
Mom’s stories include memories of my father, as well, as they came from the same city in Lithuania, met and fell in love in the Kovno Ghetto. Unfortunately, Papa died at the age of 66, and, while we did get some anecdotes from him over the years, we missed getting his full testimony. We were determined not to miss another opportunity, and we convinced Mama to be recorded. So, the first chapter is her full transcribed testimony from the moment the Nazis invaded her country and destroyed her world as she knew it – until the day of her liberation – 4 years in total. And, if anyone thinks that life after liberation in March, 1945 was easy – think again. It was fraught with endless dangers and challenges – many died or were killed after the war, as well. And, this book is also about the impact of the parents’ trauma on the offspring. Thus, the subsequent two chapters are about how the Holocaust impacted my life.
As someone with no direct personal links to the Holocaust Ettie, I can only imagine what those experiences must have been like. A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America sounds like a book we should all read in order that the lives so affected are not forgotten.
What else have you brought along and why?
I brought old family photos; I always show them, as every telling of the story is a reminder that they once lived a good and normal life before the Holocaust horrors.
Also, while many of you might think that old family photos are mundane – sure, everyone has them at home or in the attic – BUT, most Holocaust survivors were left with nothing-absolutely not one photo to remember the faces of their parents, their children or other relatives who were murdered. I realize how lucky we are because after the war, my mother made a concerted effort to collect copies of family photos from many family branches who left Europe before the war years. Therefore, we have lots of photos – and in my family – they are holy objects. I have also included a number of photos in my book.
Oh Ettie. That has brought a tear to my eye – especially in this world when we live through selfies on our mobile phones.
I also brought a photo of a medal. My grandfather owned a medal just like this one. It is called a ‘savanoris’ medal and it was given by the President of Lithuania to all the “volunteers’ who fought in the military in the Lithuanian war of independence in 1918-1920. My grandfather was very proud of his medal and his service and he always kept his medal in his pocket. Spoiler alert!!!! It saved his life on the day of the massacre. When I went on my trip “in their footsteps” I purchased a replacement medal from an antique dealer. Was it my grandfather’s medal? I will never know…but it really doesn’t matter. It is now a part of our family’s ‘heirlooms.’
I think it is the link with your grandfather that is the vital point here Ettie.
Tell me, why is it important for people to read non-fictional Holocaust stories?
Unfortunately, there were genocides before and also after the Holocaust. In fact, it was right after the Holocaust that the word ‘genocide’ was coined, in an attempt to describe the indescribable. But, the Holocaust is the largest and one of the most well documented events in human history. The documentation from the Nazis themselves, from other government and military documents, eye-witness accounts, films/images, and from survivor testimonies, fills numerous archives, university libraries, and museums. Yet, we see an uptick of Holocaust denial and distortion and a downturn in even basic knowledge about this event by the younger generations. We have also seen a huge uptick in antisemitism and racism – worldwide. Reading testimonies (or listening to recordings) about the Holocaust describe incomprehensible human cruelty and evil; but, they also offer us lessons about the human spirit, courage, strength and resilience. Such stories are inspirational and sorely needed during challenging times.
I couldn’t agree more Ettie. Thank you so much for staying in with me to talk about A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America on such an important day. I wish you every success with your book, but also with retaining the memories of those who perished so awfully.
A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America
With the Nazi occupation of Kovno (Lithuania), her life changed forever. Zlata Santocki Sidrer was Jewish, but she survived the horrors of the Holocaust.
Gone was her normal life and her teenage dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, she witnessed untold deprivations, massacres, imprisonment, hunger and slave labor before being transported to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Her story of the death march is a testament to her fighting spirit and the limits of human endurance. Yet the challenges did not end with liberation.
Lovingly compiled from recorded interviews and researched by her eldest daughter, Ettie, this is an account of a remarkably resilient woman who raised herself out of the ashes after unimaginable hardship and sorrow. She found love and happiness where none could be expected—a secret marriage in the ghetto, escapes, dangerous border crossings, reunifications, and life-saving friendships.
Ettie’s quest to learn more about her ancestry led her to Lithuania and Poland–in her mother’s footsteps. The author reflects on the impact of her family’s experiences on her own beliefs and behaviors, thereby adding to the literature about Second Generation and transgenerational trauma.
In these memoirs she honors her family by telling their amazing story of survival and collects evidence to corroborate their painful history.
A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America is available for purchase directly from Amsterdam Publishers here with more about Ettie’s family and story too. It is also available here.
About Ettie Zilber
Dr. Zilber was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany to two Holocaust survivor parents from Lithuania and immigrated to the USA as a child. She has recently retired from a career teaching in and leading international schools in Israel, Singapore, Spain, Guatemala, China and the USA. She researched the topic of Third Culture Kids and published the results in a book in 2009: Third Culture Kids: Children of International School Educators (available here).