Many scholars have researched and chronicled the horrors of the Holocaust taking place in European countries throughout World War II. Ms. Levinson's research and resulting book is different and extremely valuable on many fronts.
As the daughter of a liberator of one of the Jewish concentration camps, she sets out on a journey to better understand her father, a man who seemed not to view himself as part of a longer history. He treated his daughter as if she were almost incidental and struggled valiantly to "gate off" his past military experience from his struggles as a civilian returning from the war.
It all begins when Ms. Levinson and her brother, upon their father's death, open a trunk in the basement of Dr. Levinson's office. Inside, letters and photos indicate a past unknown to the two, a past never revealed to them with words. It is a past that will, after months of research, explain much about the hidden pain of this beloved small town doctor of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, who served as a World War II US army doctor.
Part One of the book is dedicated to interviews of other concentration camp liberators, many of whom were, at the time of the interviews, in their eighties and still choking back the pain and horror of what they encountered. Ms. Levinson's interviews carefully approach her essential questions: "How did the experience affect you upon your return to civilian life? Did you discuss what happened with your children--with anyone?" What she discovers paves the way to understanding her own father's depression and emotional disconnect from family.
Part Two is a descriptive account of the "scenes of the crimes" re-visited by the author. These environments include Perth Amboy, where she actually goes inside her childhood house. Inside, she is struck with a painful memory of her mother. She continues on to Nordhausen (Mittelbau-Dora) concentration camp in Germany; and to Boelcke Barracks, another German hell hole. This is the place, the author realizes, that turns out to be the most critical crime scene attributed to her father's breakdown.
Ms. Levinson writes: "I had hoped to learn that my parents had been kind, intelligent, handsome people who suffered from the war in general and my father's witnessing Nordhausen in particular. While there was strong support for making that case, the truth seemed more complex and elusive." She captures these complexities skillfully, if painfully, throughout the book. In accessing the complexities of the post-war lives of the other liberators, she weaves together a deeply intricate tapestry of understanding, and finally, even acceptance, of her own father.
While many liberators lived as if "Silence could hold the psyche together," the book's opening quote by Bruno Bettelheim warns:
"What cannot be talked about cannot be put to rest. And if it is not, the wounds will fester from generation to generation."
This book is a must-read for anyone who believes that World War II or any other war ends with a proclamation, that wartime victims are either buried or will forever remain silent. Ms. Levinson demonstrates that finding one's place along the continuum of history is not only important, it serves as a liberation that can free future generations from hidden pain and years of "gated grief."
Read excerpts from this book here and here.
The daughter of a GI concentration camp liberator, Leila Levinson discovers a legacy of trauma. After the death of her father, a WWII U.S. Army doctor, a concealed box of shocking photos will spark a journey that lead her down a very special path of discovery and ultimately understanding.
(See another review of this book, here)
Check out our interview with the author of Gated Grief.
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