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Daughter of Holocaust survivors deals with intergenerational trauma in new book

By MARTIN ZEILIG Marsha Lederman was five years old when a straightforward question led, as she notes in her recently published book, “Kiss the Red Stairs…The Hol-ocaust Once Removed” to “a horrifying answer.” Sitting in her kitchen, she asked her mother why she didn’t have any grandparents. Her mother told her the truth: the Holocaust.

Decades later, with her parents dead and she herself a mother to a young son, the author begins to wonder how much history has shaped her own life. Reeling in the wake of a divorce, Marsha Lederman “craves” her parents’ help.

But in their absence, she is “obsessed” by a need to understand, as Lederman says, “the trauma they suffered,” and she begins her own journey into the past to tell her family’s stories of loss and resilience.

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts correspondent for the Globe and Mail. Before joining the Globe, Marsha worked for CBC Radio, mostly in Toronto, where she held a variety of positions, including National Arts Reporter.  Lederman also worked in commercial radio as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host. Born in Toronto, she now lives in Vancouver.

“Kiss the Red Stairs” is a compelling memoir of Holocaust survival, intergenerational trauma, divorce, and discovery that will “channel readers through several lifetimes of significant change,” as one reviewer observed.

Lederman gave a reading from her meaningful memoir at the Rady JCC on October 12, followed by an on-stage conversation with Belle Jarniewski, Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. Lederman was here for the Winnipeg International Writers Festival: THIN AIR 2022.

“Marsha’s wonderful book exploring intergenerational trauma is tremendously helpful to the families of genocide survivors,” Ms. Jarniewski wrote in an email to this reporter afterwards.“When I read the book, I saw so many parallels to my own life and my experiences. As I said on the night of the event, it was as if Marsha was in my head when she wrote the book. I’m sure that many other Second Gens who have read the book have had the same reaction. For the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, I hope that we can share our own experiences with the children of other genocides. By understanding the reality of epigenetic trauma, we can better deal with and respond to its effects.”

Lederman had earlier agreed to an email interview with The Jewish Post & News.JP&N: Why did you think it was necessary to write “Kiss the Red Stairs: The Holocaust, Once Removed”?

ML: I grappled with whether the world needs another Holocaust book, to be sure. But I felt that the issue of intergenerational trauma deserved more of a spotlight. This is a critical issue that affects many Canadians. And as someone who knows about it first-hand, and someone whose own existence is a miracle, I felt that I had a responsibility to write about it. Also, it became clear as I was writing the book that many people are unaware of the facts of the Holocaust – or, worse, don’t believe them – and I hope this book can help change that.

Also – the book is funny, at times. Humour is a powerful tool; it can get us through some really dark moments in life. I have heard from so many people who can relate to my story on many levels, and it is heartwarming – if sometimes distressing – to hear their stories.

JP&N: How long did it take to write the book?

ML: I joke that it took me 55 years to write the book. But the realization that all my research and note-taking could possibly become a book was in 2017. I began writing in about 2018, did more writing and a lot of the research in 2019, but the bulk of the writing took place in 2020 and the rewriting/editing in 2020 and 2021.

JP&N: What was it like being the child of Holocaust survivors?

ML: It was the only childhood I knew, of course. But once I started going to school and making friends with other kids, I realized that my parents were a little different: they were older, had accents, and had been through “the war” – something I didn’t really understand until I was a little older. I didn’t have grandparents. Food never went to waste in my house. There was a quiet sort of sorrow that was pervasive. But my parents, although damaged from their experiences and losses, were loving and kind and wonderful people. I was very fortunate.

JP&N: Where were your parents from?

ML:  My mother was born in Radom, Poland in 1925. My father was born in Lodz, Poland in 1919.

JP&N: What is the main message/lesson that you would like a reader to come away with after reading your book?

ML: There are many messages! But here are a few of the important ones:

We must be absolutely vigilant when it comes to discrimination of any kind – racism, gender discrimination, homophobia, etc. It is essential to stand up and speak out.

Intergenerational trauma is an issue that we must be aware of – affecting not just descendants of Holocaust survivors but descendants of other mass traumas, including the residential schools travesty. Public policy must be shaped with this in mind.

Please ask your parents – or grandparents, if you are fortunate enough to have them – questions! Find out as much as you can about their lives. Don’t make the mistake I did – waiting too long so that I had to find answers in libraries and on Google and in journals and film reels, when I could have just asked my parents these questions, face-to-face, and learned their stories directly from them.

“Kiss the Red Stairs:

The Holocaust, Once Removed”

by Marsha Lederman

Penguin Random House Canada

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