by Elizabeth Rosner
Elizabeth Rosner and her 86-year-old father travelled to Germany in 2015, for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp, where he had been a prisoner. Attending the Survivor Café event, designed to facilitate conversation about history, were other survivors of the camp and descendants of Nazis. The author recalls a psychotherapist, who revealed that both her grandfathers had been in the SS. The woman had not even been born then, but still she felt ashamed. There was also a man wearing his old striped prison uniform and matching cap. The man may have looked Fellini-esque but, Rosner writes, he was deadly serious. Her book explores how people remember, with accounts from first-hand witnesses, those who inherit trauma and future generations who have an obligation to preserve the truth. Survivor Café is not an easy read, and not just because of its discursive style. Rosner’s discussion about transgenerational epigenetic inheritance (trauma effecting cellular change, which shows up in subsequent generations) fails to persuade. But still her work leaves an impression.