A spiritual examination focuses on the terrible toll the Holocaust took on its survivors.
Debut author Korman Mains’ parents were both decisively shaped by the horror of the Holocaust. Her mother, Masza Goldblum, was born and raised in Poland, and when the Nazis invaded in 1939, her family was forced into a crowded ghetto—and her brother was summarily shot. The survivors were then sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Goldblum’s mother was gassed. From there, Goldblum was shipped to a concentration camp for women, before being liberated in 1945. The author’s father, Szapsa Korman, avoided imprisonment in the camps, but lost his first wife and much of his family. Korman Mains grew up under the dark specter of her parents’ tormented past—both were generally aloof and somewhat inscrutable. While many wondered how such a tragedy could occur, the author wrestled with the 20th century’s central catastrophe from a different vantage point: Could its victims meaningfully recover? In 1971, she attended a seminar led by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan exile; he introduced her to the therapeutic power of meditation and to a philosophical perspective that helped her begin to divine an answer to this question. She learned that the cosmos is characterized by a “basic goodness,” a moral health, and even the worst transgressions occur within the horizon of this elemental humaneness. The author, armed with years of spiritual practice, traveled to Poland to find healing for herself and maybe some wisdom to share with other Jews about the restoration of this basic goodness. In this poignant account that features family photographs, Korman Mains intelligently discusses the resistance of her family to Buddhist spirituality—for her parents, one’s Jewish identity was nonnegotiable. Therefore, the historical suffering of the Jews must be managed only by loyal Jews. The author recalls: “The irony was that doing nothing to engage with Judaism made me a good Jew simply by default. But searching to understand my own and others’ suffering with the help of Buddhist meditation made me disloyal and a bad Jew.” Her story is a heart-rending one, and provides a fresh take not only on the Holocaust, but also the proper response to the seemingly inerasable stain left by profound anguish. The narrative does tend, though, to meander somewhat shiftlessly—the author reproduces long excerpts from her uncle’s memoir.
A moving and original contribution to an inexhaustible body of literature.