In Words and Images, New Memoir by Holocaust "Replacement Child" Probes Healing, Identity & Meaning
In the opening lines of her new memoir, Jana Zimmer makes clear that her intentions for the volume are daunting, fearless and far-reaching.
"The sages speak about each child coming into the world to mend something in their family line and ultimately in the human family," the Santa Barbara author, visual artist and attorney writes.
"In essence our lives are meant to be acts of what we Jews call teshuvah, of turning toward a deeper and deeper level of healing."
If such prodigiuous aspiration may, at first glance, seem inordinately sweeping and audacious, the memoir --- titled "Chocolates from Tangier: A Holocaust replacement child's memoir of art and transformation" -- largely delivers on its promise.
Multi-layered, emotionally compelling and deeply personal, it not only describes in words the histories, objects and insights she gathered from decades of research -- searching and seeking to know, understand and absorb the ways her life has been shaped by the Shoah -- but also presents color reproductions of collages, prints and other artwork she made over the past quarter-century, when language proved inadequate in expressing her found truth.
Zimmer's parents both were survivors of Nazi death camps - but the first spouse of each, along with many other family members, perished in the German genocide of Jews. Her mother and father met in Prague, shortly after the Allies' liberation of the camps and the end of World War II. They soon married and Jana, their only child, was born in Czechoslovakia, a few years before the couple fled to Canada, made refugees once again by the Communist takeover of their country.
Although the horror and terror of her parents' experience hung over their household and most of Jana's childhood, they never spoke about it to her -- least of all about the death at the hands of the Nazis of her father's beloved only child, Ritta, a little girl who disappeared into the maw of the camps at the age of 12 and never was heard from after.
"His loss hung like a veil over my natural exuberance," Jana writes:
"Looking out into the world as a child I saw, not a field of possibilities but a vast emptiness, and there was always silence. There were no answers to my questions. Not about where babies came from, or why everyone else had a grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins and I did not...
"I don't know to this day if the choked, blank space in my mind, where desire or commitment to a dream would have lived when I was younger, was part of an inherited, primitive superstition or a survivor tic - as in, 'Don't expect anything of this world. We just wanted to live our lives and look what happened to us.'"
Meet the author. Jana will talk about her memoir and her art at a book signing event on Thursday (Jan. 19) at 6 p.m. at Chaucers.
In a one-on-one conversation with Newsmakers on Monday, she spoke about her long personal journey - emotional, artistic, spiritual, psychological, geographic - in pursuit of healing, identity, meaning and "fulfilling my duty to memory and history," as a "replacement child" of the Holocaust.
"As in a mathematical Möbius strip, themes, imperatives, lessons and obsessions rooted in the phases of my life keep returning, through my artwork, disguised in different contexts," she wrote. "Things may be finished but they are never over. Like history."
Watch or listen to our conversation with Jana Zimmer via YouTube below or by clicking through this link.
Jana Zimmer begins her new memoir