DP CAMP TO NOVELIST
After working as an actress and screenwriter, Rose Ross (pictured below) turned to novel-writing. She is the author of the novel Lila, which follows two girls who were born on the same day after the war in a Displaced Persons camp to Holocaust survivors and who end up growing up in the same apartment building in New York. Despite everyone's expectations, the girls have a troubled relationship. Shocking facts about the trauma of the scarred parents' Holocaust experiences influence the girls throughout their lives.
My father was from Riga, Latvia. He spent from 1938 to 1945 in labor camps and concentration camps. My mother was from Cluj, Romania, and was in Auschwitz and Buchenwald from 1943 to 1945.
1. CHILDHOOD: DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN AND HOW YOU FIRST REALIZED YOUR PARENTS WERE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS?
Since I was the first child born in our DP camp, I was revered as a miracle, cherished by everyone. so my memories were only happy. When my family and I immigrated to the United States, I was age four and excited about meeting our new family. However, when we met at the terminal where we arrived from Germany, my father's aunt, our sponsor, looked at us suspiciously and treated us with distaste. That first day I was introduced to the words "refugees" and "greenhorns." They never made us feel welcome and went out of their way to make us feel ashamed of who we were. The word Holocaust was never to be talked about, ever; that was the past. The only thing we had to do now was to get jobs and learn how to be Americans. The hope that I had seen in my parent's eyes disappeared. Tanta Helen and her family went out of their way to let us know we were different. For the three years that we were under her watchful eye, she never let us forget. I understood as young as I was that something terrible had happened to my mother and father. It was not long until I understood that the Holocaust meant sadness, suffering, pain, and death.
HOW WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD AFFECTED BY THIS KNOWLEDGE.
I was an only child with no one to talk to, so I was quiet, shy, and had a vivid imagination. I had dreams about faces without any features, people crying out to me to come towards them. The closer I got, the farther they were. I was never able to catch up to them. I was always aware when my mother would get sad, stop what she was doing, and stare out the window—trying to make her laugh, being good was a responsibility I took on early and kept until she passed away at 80. It was hard and, at times, a burden.
GROWING UP, DID YOU KNOW OTHER CHILDREN OR HAVE FRIENDS WHOSE PARENTS WERE SURVIVORS?
For as long as I can remember, there were always Friday night card games with two couples my parents had met in the Displaced Persons camp in Germany. They each had one daughter born after me in the same Displaced Persons Camp as I was. While our parents played cards in the kitchen, laughing and telling stories, we watched television, gorging on cake and candy. But when their voices got soft, we lowered the sound on the TV and listened. We knew they were talking about the concentration camps, and they did not want us to hear. That is where the three of us learned about some of the things our parents had gone through. Once they raised their voices and went back to the present, the laughing started again. The three of us never spoke about what we heard, never, at least not amongst ourselves. We just returned to the TV, raised the volume, and sat there as if we had heard nothing unusual. But I am sure that the stories from the evening kept all three of us up.
DID BEING SECOND-GENERATION MAKE YOU FEEL DIFFERENT FROM OTHER KIDS WHEN GROWING UP?
The neighborhood I grew up in was very mixed. We had Holocaust survivors, American Jews, Italians, Puerto Ricans. The only ones that made me feel different were the American Jews. I always sensed their discomfort with me once they knew who my parents were. But with the kids, no.
DID YOUR PARENTS DISCUSS THEIR EXPERIENCES? OR DID THEY DENY, DISMISS, OR GLOSS OVER THEM?
My mother rarely spoke about what happened to her. She lost everyone. It was hard for her; she said I did not need to know about so much pain and sorrow. When they played cards on Friday nights, and the conversation turned to the concentrations camps, my mother would leave and go into the kitchen. On the other hand, my father would talk freely about his experiences but never around my mother. Through the years, my mother did speak to me when we went to the movies. We would go to the movies early, sit in the dark, and she would tell me a little about her growing up. Once the movie started, it was over. I was not allowed to continue the conversation again. But a few weeks before her 80th birthday. I taped her memories over two weeks.
It was the best gift she ever gave me.
2. PROS AND CONS
DID YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT YOUR PARENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCE CHANGE AS YOU GOT OLDER?
No, but through the years, as I got older and understood what happened to them and other survivors, it made me sadder and, at times, very angry. Those feelings have stayed with me to this day.
DID YOU FEEL THAT THERE WERE ADVANTAGES TO BEING A 2G. WERE THERE STRENGTHS THAT YOU GAINED?
Advantages? No. Strengths? I don't take things for granted.
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE SUFFERED BEING THE CHILD OF SURVIVORS? WERE YOU SCARRED IN SOME WAY BY BEING A 2g?
HAS YOUR LIFE BEEN HAMPERED BY BEING A 2G?
I would not say suffered or scarred, but different. I have always kept things to myself. My feelings about the Holocaust are clear to anyone that asks but my personal feelings about my parents and growing up is sometimes like a cloud that hangs over me. It is hard for me to talk about it.
AS AN ADULT, HOW HAS BEING A CHILD OF SURVIVORS INFLUENCED OR POSSIBLY DEFINED YOU?
I think I have always felt like an adult. Being a child of survivors has made me a stronger person and more compassionate to other people's struggles. I look forward and not backward. But I have no patience with people who do not know what they are talking about. Ignorance is something I cannot tolerate.
DO YOU FEEL DIFFERENT FROM NON-2Gs?
3. THE "INHERITED TRAUMA" QUESTION.
DO YOU THINK THERE IS SUCH A THING AS "INHERITED TRAUMA"?
Trauma? Yes. At certain times in my life, mostly when I was younger. When I got older, it only made me stronger.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED A PIVOTAL MOMENT OR REALIZATION IN YOUR LIFE RELATING TO YOUR 2G STATUS?
No, it has always been a part of me.
ARE YOU NOW CONCERNED WITH THE WORLD'S PERCEPTION OF THE HOLOCAUST? ARE YOU INTERESTED IN HOLOCAUST EDUCATION? HAVE YOU WORKED FOR HOLOCAUST CAUSES? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT.
World’s Perception? More than ever.
I have participated in classroom talks about the Holocaust as a 2G. I have not worked with Holocaust causes. My feelings about Holocaust causes are that everything has its place.
IF YOU ARE A PARENT, HOW HAS YOUR PARENTING BEEN INFLUENCED BY BEING A 2G?
I have two adopted children from Korea. I have raised them to know and understand who their grandparents are and what they had to endure because they were Jews. To be sensitive to others who are different and to NEVER judge people based on their religion, color, and background. That is how my parents raised me. My children are now 38 and 39, and I believe it has worked.
Rose Ross's website: https://roserossauthor.com