Saving What Remains: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim Her Ancestry

Saving What Remains: A Holocaust Survivor's Journey Home to Reclaim Her Ancestry

by Livia Bitton-Jackson
     
 

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When Livia Bitton-Jackson returned in 1980 to her childhood town of Samorin, Czechoslovakia, on the Danube River, she was no ordinary tourist: Thirty-six years earlier, as a thirteen-year-old girl in what was then the Hungarian town of Somorja, she and her family had been deported to Auschwitz.
 
In Saving What Remains, a best-selling

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Overview

When Livia Bitton-Jackson returned in 1980 to her childhood town of Samorin, Czechoslovakia, on the Danube River, she was no ordinary tourist: Thirty-six years earlier, as a thirteen-year-old girl in what was then the Hungarian town of Somorja, she and her family had been deported to Auschwitz.
 
In Saving What Remains, a best-selling memoirist tells a moving and beautifully written story about disinterring the past so that it will never be forgotten. Bitton-Jackson’s gripping, present-tense account traces her return to the land she and her Jewish community loved when she was a child, a land that now—decades after the Holocaust’s devastation—contained only the remnants of a once-thriving Jewish culture.
 
What remained in Samorin was a Jewish cemetery where the bodies of Livia’s grandparents rested. And yet a new dam on the Danube would soon flood the graveyard, permanently obliterating the last traces of her family’s long sojourn in Europe. At her elderly mother’s request, Livia and her husband left from Israel on a precarious quest: to exhume the family remains from behind the Iron Curtain—where Communist favors came at a price, and where revelations awaited—and bring them to Israel for reburial. The trip brought back memories both joyful and horrifying for Livia.
 
Written in the tradition of the Jewish Book Award finalist Motherland: Beyond the Holocaust, Livia Bitton-Jackson’s Saving What Remains is a heart-wrenching story of a Holocaust survivor’s return to her childhood home decades after surviving Auschwitz. It explores how traces of the Holocaust mark both the landscape and the population despite the utter annihilation of Jewish culture in so much of Europe—while also serving as a poignant and powerful reminder of the debts we owe our ancestors.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

This veteran Holocaust memoirist writes of returning to her past, in this case not the camps or ghettos. For Bitton-Jackson (history, emerita, Lehman Coll., CUNY; I Have Lived a Thousand Years), all that remained was a cemetery, now in the Czech Republic and about to be flooded. Her journey to rescue her grandparents' remains for reinterment in Israel reminds readers that in retrieving the physical remnants of the past we will confront many forces.
—Frederic Krome

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781599218366
Publisher:
Globe Pequot Press
Publication date:
08/04/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
345 KB

Read an Excerpt

(Decades after the Holocaust, the author revisits the dormitory where she and other survivors lived after liberation)

 

The building is somewhat more worn than I remember. I walk up the familiar stairs and ring the bell. A sign on the door says: POLICE STATION, DISTRICT 4. There is no answer.

Len finds a narrow gate in the wire fence that flanks the building, and opens it. I follow him on the thin path among the weeds till we reach the backyard. How small it is! How did we, eighty-five girls, find room in this small yard to dance the hora around the campfire night after night, singing “Eretz Israel, nasha sveta zem . . .”—“Land of Israel, our sacred Land”?

I raise my eyes and see the windows of the tall, adjacent building towering above the yard. The Svoradov Catholic Seminary. Those windows up there filled with faces when we danced—laughing, jeering faces. . . . [S]ometimes buckets of water came tumbling from the windows, sometimes rocks. From high above, from the tall windows of the Svoradov Catholic Seminary the splashing buckets of water extinguished our campfires.

And the girls, survivors of Nazi brutality, retaliated by building another campfire, and another, singing even louder, dancing with even more spirit.

Meet the Author

Livia Bitton-Jackson, born Elli L. Friedmann in Czechoslovakia, was thirteen when she, her mother, and her brother were taken to Auschwitz. They were liberated in 1945 and came to the United States in 1951. Professor Emerita of History at Lehman College of the City University of New York, she is the author of several widely praised books, including Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust, which received the Christopher Award, the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, and the Jewish Heritage Award; the best-selling I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust; My Bridges of Hope: Searching for Life and Love after Auschwitz; and Hello, America: A Refugee’s Journey from Auschwitz to the New World.

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