Susan Gold has spent a lifetime repressing memories of her childhood. But in her new book, "The Eyes Are The Same" (Full Court Press), she graphically portrays her experiences as a hidden child during the Holocaust.
Gold, a retired expert in Russian business development, has taught at the Columbia University School for International Affairs. She began putting her recollections to paper three years ago during an advanced writing class in Englewood Cliffs. Each week she wrote a chapter for the class, which, she said, became "therapeutic emotionally."
The events of her childhood were long past, and she struggled to remember things as they had happened when she was 5 years old.
"I tried to remember as a child would remember it, but I was writing it as an adult," she said. "The more I wrote, the more I remembered."
She began to ask questions of other relatives who had survived, and each tale she heard brought back a memory of her own. By the end, she had put together a memoir of her experiences growing up in Poland and Ukraine, living in a ghetto, assuming a gentile name, and then going into hiding underground for two years with her family.
The family was liberated in the spring of 1944 by Russian soldiers on their way to Berlin. By 1947, they were placed in a displaced persons camp in Germany’s American zone. It was there, at the age of 11, that Gold learned how to ride a bicycle and play Ping-Pong. An American uncle soon brought the family to their new home in Brooklyn, where Gold wanted nothing more than to fit in.
"When you’re young, you want to be like the others," she said. "You don’t want to stand out. I always subconsciously felt what happened. If I let it come out, it would cause me endless anxiety."
After the book came out, Gold received calls from college friends who said they had never known she had been a hidden child.
"That’s how well I kept it under cover," she said.
The book’s title came from Gold’s daughter, Liza, who still refuses to read the memoir in its entirety, even though it is dedicated to her and her brother Jonathan.
"It’s too hurtful to her," Gold said. "She feels too close to [Holocaust literature]. Both she and my son say they need space."
Gold never spoke about her experiences until she attended the first international conference of hidden children in 1991. There, she realized the importance of telling her story because there is a limited time left for survivors to give their personal accounts.
"I realized I had to carry the torch, so to speak," she said. "We are the last generation of survivors now in ‘007. In ‘070 we’re not going to be around anymore. How is this going to be communicated and transmitted to our children?"
Gold pointed out that places like Poland lost something during the Holocaust because they lost a part of the population that had been integral in forming the larger society.
"The Jewish civilization in Poland, which was a very rich civilization that had lasted for 500 years, has been wiped away from the face of the earth," she said. Although the places remain the same, the people and society that gave the land its character are no more, she continued. She mentioned that it is now popular in Poland to attend klezmer festivals and eat cholent, but the people who sparked these customs are no longer there.
"It’s like the Indians," she said. "You’ve got Indian relics and Indian names" on lands no longer occupied by Native Americans.
In addition to aiding the collective Jewish memory, Gold wants her story to act as a cautionary tale.
"The holocausts are not over with," she said. "We’ve had Darfur, we’ve had Rwanda. It’s nice to say ‘that kind of evil is in the past,’ but no, you’re seeing it now in various forms and various places."
Man’s inhumanity to man is still a problem in the world and one that our children and grandchildren will have to deal with, Gold said. "Yes, our Holocaust has to be remembered, but it has to be remembered in a larger sense," relating to the "nature of evil and intolerance."