The book reading today was quite a special occasion. Rachel read selected extracts from her memoirs with a silvery voice that projected well as the audience sat utterly wrapt. Unfortunately I only got there after the event was underway so I didn’t hear Rachel describe the early part of her life and her escape from Nazi Germany. The passages I heard were selections from her family life, of passing on Jewish tradition down the generations, from her parents to her grandchildren, very moving reflections on marriage and graceful but clear-eyed acceptance of the passing of time. I found her reflections particularly profound without being sentimental and there is something in this book to inspire and teach us all.
The discussion was very revealing, Rachel talked about the process of building a memoir from notebooks, about her desire to be careful to avoid causing anybody any pain from reading her words, and her struggle to build the confidence that writing the memoir was more than passive self-absorption. People asked questions to fill in the biographical fragments of those mentioned in the book such as her parents, and it was clear that there are additional histories waiting to be written. For instance Rachel mentioned that her father worked for IGFarben and it was partly his non-Jewish colleagues there who helped to convince him to leave Nazi Germany when it was still possible. This is a very interesting personal perspective on a company that bears direct responsibility for Nazi crimes. The personal anecdote further underscores the impression from recent research reported today in the NYT documenting the enormous numbers of concentration camps and ghettos established by the Nazis (42,500) with one of the implications being how extensive the awareness of ordinary German citizens must have been about the atrocities that were taking place.
The upstairs annex at TBE is a very special space for gatherings. As one participant pointed out it is both spacious and intimate. We are really fortunate to have this lovely space available to our congregation.
Special thanks to Rachel Siegel for sharing herself and her insights with us all in book form and in person. Thanks to Gale for organizing this special event and for providing me with the gorgeous photographic portrait of Rachel. Thanks also to Lesli for bringing the NYT article to my attention.