“The Listener: In the Shadow of the ‘Holocaust” by Irene More— From Generation to Generation

Oore, Irene. “The Listener: In the Shadow of the ‘Holocaust”,  University of Regina Press, 2019.

From Generation to Generation

Amos Lassen

In “The Listener”, writer Irene Oore looks at trauma and how it is passed from generation to generation. She retells the stories that her mother, Stefa, began sharing with her when she was only four years old. The stories center on the years that Stefa spent on the run and in hiding as a Jewish woman during the German occupation of Poland in the Second World War.

Oore’s mother escaped the death camps by concealing her Jewish identity. She was constantly on the run and on the verge of starvation, struggling to keep herself and her family alive. The stories of fear, love, and constant hunger traumatized her as a child. Today, she shares these same stories with her own children hoping to keep the history alive.

Oore was born in Poland to a mother who looked Aryan and was considered attractive by those standards. She marrying a gentile officer yet was always aware of the unspeakable horrors that she had seen. She shared thee stories often to her daughter, beginning when she was 4 years old. Even though she initially felt incapable of understanding the stories and the reason for sharing them, she later felt unworthy of sharing them she had not suffered what her mother did. She discovered the value in sharing it with her own children. Today she feels that she has had a moral obligation to retell them.

She explores how her mother’s “deep dislike of Jews, her self-hatred, came as an additional ‘fringe benefit’ of the story and has accompanied me all my life.” Oore is older than her mother was when the storytelling began, and in sharing the story with her own adult children, she was able to find catharsis. Her mother told Irène about the struggle of securing food, shelter and safety for herself and her family. She told of the dangerous work to “pass” as a non-Jew), of being someone else, of discovering who could be trusted and of relying on others, of buying silence. 

These stories were Stefa’s lifelong nightmares. She preserved the reality of what she went through by telling them over and over again. Oore tells us that when her mother shared, she just sat there and listened and felt resentment about carrying her mother’s sadness, fear, disdain and trauma. She later learned that that these stories cannot be undone or forgotten. They can only be esteemed and honored. The book looks at important and personal questions—“What is the meaning of changing our names? What impact does keeping secrets have on who we are? How do we know and create our identity? How do we recover from fear and oppression? How do we honor and heal from our experiences?”

We are reminded of the experiences many have While this is a personal story, it helps is to create better lives for one another. This, too, is part of our culture. We are at that point in history that the Holocaust survivor population is dwindling and it is so important for us to pick up where they leave off and never forget.

The stories  are about misplaced confidence, self-loathing and guilt and the kinds of stories that children do not have to hear. Yet they are stories that Stefa felt compelled to share with her daughter. Oore grew up with her parents, aunt and uncle, all four of them Holocaust survivors.

They were haunted by their past, every moment of every day and every moment of every night and Oore was their proof that they actually survived. She was their link to their present and their future. It was only after years of resenting and hiding from the stories that Oore began to understand her mother’s need to tell them — and her own obligation, as her daughter, to share them with her own children.

By lovingly sharing her mother’s carefully chosen words and observations, Oore has a lot to say about trauma and the way in which it is unwittingly passed through the generations.

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