Books: Unforgettable interviews

A clinical psychologist asks survivors the unthinkable: Do you have any positive memories of the Holocaust?

Auschwitz (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Most people in Israel have read an enormous amount of Holocaust literature. The stories are tragic, horrifying and heartbreaking. No matter how many books you read, or films and documentaries you see, you can never come to terms with the fact that such evil exists in the world.
But Dr. Anthony Bellen’s book is different.
Bellen, a clinical psychologist specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder, moral resilience and restorative processes, has penned After Auschwitz: The Unasked Question. Having retired from his position as head of the treatment and rehabilitation department at the Prisons Service, Bellen is now a psychotherapist treating post-trauma victims suffering from personal loss.
The unasked question in the book’s title is: “Do you remember any positive experience from your time in the concentration camp? Was there ever a positive interaction – a brief moment of happiness – in the midst of that evil abyss?” Bellen has selected interviews with six survivors for this book (chosen from 56 Holocaust survivors he interviewed in 2004 for his doctoral research study in the department of criminology at Bar-Ilan University.
The six gave written permission to share their stories, although names have been changed for privacy. Their stories are unique because they are not just about giving testimony but focused on a tiny glimmer of something positive within that horrendous negative milieu, an instant of happiness if just for a moment.
I don’t think I will ever forget any of these stories. Motti’s moment of happiness occurred on the day of liberation from Theresienstadt, when a Russian soldier stood on a wooden crate and called out in Yiddish: “Has anyone seen my mother?” For Ida it was finding a friend from her village – Miryam. For Eva, it was finding her hairbrush from home that her brother managed to give her before he was gassed in Majdanek. Reuven’s moment of happiness came in a swimming pool with two friends. Ya’acov’s joy came from meeting the love of his life, Sonya, in a laundry in Brintz. Sarah’s positive memory came from a Christmas in Bromberg, where she and some friends “performed” a song for the SS and later for the inmates of the camp.
These were just minuscule moments of happiness, gone in a flash, but powerfully remembered decades later – but never spoken of before.
The book concludes with a bibliography and references, as well as the seven questions Bellen asked each of his interviewees.
These unforgettable stories may help other people with different traumas find the strength to overcome them.
They may even change your perceptions and understanding of the reality of your own life.