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I Was A Child Of Holocaust Survivors

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Art as a Second Language

Bernice Eisenstein’s novel I was a Child of Holocaust Survivors uses both art and modern language to express the feelings and emotions associated with her family’s traumatic history. Eisenstein blends images throughout her work to help the readers gain a better understanding of the emotional journey that she has undertaken through writing this novel. Not only does she tell the story of her life but she also incorporates the life stories of her family and community. She uses images to further express feelings which cannot be articulated in words. Not only does she use images throughout the story to visually represent things she uses extreme language and comparisons to demonstrate her desire to understand her families past in order to understand herself.

Throughout the novel, I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors, Eisenstein explores the boundaries of graphic literature as well as memoir writing. The combination of the two forms of literature is used to draw attention to the repercussions of growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust. The images which are interspersed throughout the novel allow the reader to gain a better understanding of the emotions that the narrator is trying to express. The images she portrays are carefully drawn and placed throughout the work to reinforce a particular point or to express something which is impossible to articulate in words. In a literature review Margot Kaminsky states:

“The illustrations are necessary, not ancillary, to the story and its main points. Eisenstein creates thoughtful links between the captioned images and the text. Quotations that originally spout from a drawn character's mouth reappear much later in written sentences. Images also repeat themselves, creating a universe that reverberates.” (Kaminsky).

Without the illustrations the reader would not grasp the entirety of the novel and Eisenstein’s purpose for writing the novel would be lost. The illustrations allow the readers to gain insight not only into story but the sentiment that Eisenstein is trying to depict. In an interview, Eisenstein comments on her choice of combining both graphic art and modern language into her book:

“Image and words were natural tools, even though I did not consider myself to be a writer. Drawing, using it as a language, is more innate to me. But I found that writing was needed as well since neither one alone seemed capable of complete expression. […] I felt that both could take me deeper into reflection about my family, the Holocaust, how they had shaped me. And what I had made of them.” (Pan Macmillan).

Eisenstein felt that both art and language were necessary to express her true thoughts; neither one was strong enough individually. Although there is ambiguity to the images, they serve as a universal medium that everyone can understand and take meaning from.

Although Eisenstein did not directly experience the Holocaust, her entire life was formed around what had occurred to her parents during that time. She grew up within a community of Holocaust survivors, whose lives and everyday interactions formed who she is as a person; their past directly influenced the way she lived her life and she became obsessed with finding out about the Holocaust. The story not only examines how Eisenstein’s family history formed her present life but also how she has come to understand who she is and how she has come to live her life outside of the Holocaust. Writing her story served as a therapeutic way of moving on with her life outside of the Holocaust. Throughout the novel she describes her obsession of the Holocaust like a heroine addiction:

“The Holocaust is a drug and I have entered an opium den, […] I will discover that there is no end to the dealers I can find for just one more hit, one more entry into the hallucinatory world of ghost. My parents don’t even realize that they are the drug dealers. They could never imagine the kind of high H gives. The way its makes me want to dive into endless depths, sending me out of my home alone into the cinema, the library where I can see every movie and read every book that deals with the Holocaust. Reels of film, along with printed pages from books, could all be chopped into fine powder, laid down, row upon row, and snorted.” (Eisenstein 20).

Eisenstein uses extreme metaphors such as this to demonstrate the extent to which the Holocaust controlled her life. The comparison of the Holocaust to heroine creates very graphic images for the readers and almost implies and certain amount of wrongness and guilt associated with her addiction. This also demonstrates the destructive element of her addiction to the Holocaust; it controlled every aspect of her life. Although her addiction to heroine was at times overpowering and extreme, she used it to help soothe her pain of growing up a child of survivors. Eisenstein felt that “without the Holocaust [she] was lost in memory.” (Eisenstein 19), writing the novel allowed her to break free from that and discover who she was without the Holocaust. Although she was never truly able to understand what her parents had experienced she was able to gain a greater appreciation for them and how they dealt with their past.

Throughout the novel Eisenstein carefully propagates information so that everything is not clearly outlined for the readers; nothing is laid out in perfect chronological order. The audience is forced to read between the lines and piece together the images and text in order to fully understand the true meaning much like Eisenstein had to do herself when writing the novel. Kaminsky comments:

“The lack of conventional chronology is one of the book's great strengths. Eisenstein holds her cards tight to her chest, letting revelations come when they are no longer expected. This technique reflects her characterization of memory as an unmapped place filled with unexpected links. Additionally, each back-story begins as a present daily relationship with an ordinary person.” (Kaminsky).

This allows the reader to imagine themselves as the narrator remembering a tragic past. Many of the images the Eisenstein presents lack colour and detail which represents her lack of clarity on the Holocaust. On writing the novel Eisenstein said: “I moved between writing and drawing. A drawing led me to thoughts that I wanted to write down, and when I wrote, ideas for drawings came out of there.” (Pan Macmillan). This is evident throughout the novel as Eisenstein often presents an image to the reader before explaining its relevance. The image allows the readers to question its potential significance which is often revealed



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