After long silence A memoir

Helen Fremont

Book - 1999

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New York : Delacorte Press 1999.
Physical Description
322 p.
Main Author
Helen Fremont (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Fremont and her sister, Lara, grew up in a house filled with secrets, not the least of which was Fremont's lesbianism, which she kept from her distant parents until she was well into her thirties. But her Polish parents had a secret they had carefully guarded even longer: they were Jewish, not Catholic as they had led their daughters to believe. The surprising revelation explained many things the sisters had felt and experienced during their growing up, but the reason for their parents' elaborate lie remained a mystery until the pair began to investigate, exposing "a hole the size of a crater at the center of [their] mother's heart." Fremont pieces together past and present in this account of her parents' horrific ordeal as victims of both Nazi and Soviet persecution. In the tradition of books such as Helen Epstein's Where She Came From (1997), this personal perspective shows how the effects of brutal times shape a legacy for the generations that follow. ((Reviewed February 15, 1999)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Along with her older sister, Lara, Fremont was raised in an ostensibly Roman Catholic family in the Midwest, although her secretive and tight-lipped parents didn't follow many of the customs. Although Fremont knew that her father had been in a Siberian gulag for six years and that her mother had been in a concentration camp, she and Lara later discovered (through perseverance and detective work) that their parents were actually Polish Jews whose families had been virtually wiped out in the Holocaust. Fremont's voyage of discovery is engrossing, as she not only learns of her family's tragic history and heroic survival but also of the powerful relationships between sisters: she with Lara and her mother with her own strong-willed sister, Zosia, who saved them from the Nazis. Unlocking her family's past helps draw Fremont closer to both her sister and her parents, who had remained silent for 50 years. Recommended for all public libraries and for academic libraries with large Holocaust collections. John A. Drobnicki, York Coll. Lib., CUNY Copyright 1999 Library Journal Reviews

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Fremont's memoir is an incredible tale of survival, a beautiful love story and a suspenseful account of how the author's investigation of her roots shattered fiercely guarded family secrets. Raised Roman Catholic in a Michigan suburb, Fremont knew that her parents had been in concentration camps. Her Polish mother, Batya, was interned in Mussolini's Italy, and her Hungarian-born father, Kovik, was sentenced to life in the Siberian gulag. But her parents refused to talk about their past, and they never let on that they had been born Jews. Fremont, a Boston lawyer and public defender, and her sister, Lara, a psychiatrist, pieced together their parents' hidden past by examining archives and tracking down Holocaust survivors. As Batya and Kovik gradually opened up to discuss their ordeals, Fremont was able to reclaim her Jewish faith and to make sense of a childhood marked by panic attacks and a hyperactive fantasy life. She also divulged a secret of her own when, at the age of 35, she finally told her mother that she is a lesbian. The bombshell coming-out story is secondary to the harrowing account of her parents' traumas: Batya's escape from Nazi-occupied Poland only to be arrested on the Italian border; the bizarre marriage of Fremont's maternal aunt to a government official in Fascist Rome who helped secure Batya's release from an Italian concentration camp; Kovik's escape from Siberia after six years of hard labor and his 1947 reunion with his fiancée in Rome, where they married as Catholics; the couple's emigration to the U.S. in 1950. Though the story is at times emotionally overwhelming, Fremont writes with an admirable restraint that enables her to turn her parents' life, and her own, into a triumphant work of art. Author tour. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Publishers Weekly Reviews

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In a vivid, searching memoir, the author, raised as a Roman Catholic in America, tells how she discovered that her parents were Jews who had survived the Holocaust and explores the elaborate deceptions her parents concocted to preserve her and her sister. Tour.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The author tells how she discovered that her parents were Jews who survived the Holocaust and explores the elaborate deceptions her parents concocted to preserve her and her sister

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Helen Fremont was raised Roman Catholic in America, only to discover in adulthood that her parents were Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Delving into the extraordinary secrets that held her family together in a bond of silence for more than forty years, she recounts with heartbreaking clarity and candor a remarkable tale of survival, as vivid as fiction but with the eloquence of truth.When Helen was small, her mother taught her the sign of the cross in six languages. Theirs was the tender conspiracy of a little girl and her mother at bedtime, protected by a God who could respond in any language. What she didn't understand was that she was being equipped with proof of her Catholicism, a hedge against persecution, real or imagined.It wasn't until adulthood that she began to comprehend the terrible irony of her mother's gesture. She knew that her father had spent six years in the Siberian Gulag, surviving nearly on will alone; that her mother's elder sister, fearless and proud, had married an Italian Fascist whose title and connections helped them to survive during the war. But their faith, their legacy as Jews, was kept hidden for years.