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Discovering the Hiding Places

Diane Wyshogrod

In Hiding Places: a Mother, a Daughter, an Uncovered Life, Diane Wyshogrod draws from every facet of her identity — writer, clinical psychologist, daughter, mother — not only to understand her mother’s wartime experiences, but to find out why it is so important for her (and for us) to make that attempt in the first place.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

black and white background, conversationPrologue

“I don’t want you to write this book.”

            My mother is emphatic.

            “I mean, writing it is okay, as long as it’s for the family,” she continues. “But you never said anything about publishing this. Oh, no.”

            She’s shaking her head now. Each shake has its punctuation:

“No.”

“No.”

            Each “no” raps like a judge’s gavel. Sentencing complete.

            “I don’t want strangers to read about my life. And all those stories about my childhood? You and your brother, the kids, okay. But others? Oh, no.”

            “I don’t see why not.” My mind is racing. I force myself to talk slowly, to keep my voice level. “There’s nothing there that could embarrass you. You didn’t do anything wrong—”

            “Of course not,” she interrupts, indignant. She doesn’t yield. “But I’m a very private person. Besides, I never liked to talk about it. Unlike your father. I mean, I never hid it either. You knew what happened to me, but it’s finished and I don’t like to think about it.”

            Our voices are braiding in and out of each other.

            “I know that.” I’m not giving in either. I’m not her daughter for nothing. “But your story’s important. It should be recorded. People should know. Besides, it’s not just about you. It’s about us, you and me.”

            “Well, then, keep it in the family. For the family, okay?”

Here it was, the reaction I had dreaded for years. But I’d thought I’d worked all that out, that she and I had an understanding. That she knew what I was doing and approved of it. I’d hoped to be spared exactly this.

I was wrong.

It may sound like just another one of those mother-daughter differences of opinion, a clash of wills neither likes losing. But it’s more than that. Otherwise, my guts wouldn’t be whirling like a food processor while I struggle to keep my cool. What we are really talking about is something that goes so deep, that’s been so buried, I’m not sure I’ve fully excavated it yet. I’m being challenged to mount my defense, and I can barely utter a word. Not to her. Especially not to her.

            This is a story I have spent 15 years of my life writing. And all the years of my life living.

I wasn’t looking for this story. In fact, for most of my life, I was perfectly happy to leave it where it was, curled up quietly in the background, not hidden, but not being paraded about either. Like my mother. She didn’t hide what had happened to her, she just didn’t dwell on it. She’d shrug.

“Nothing happened to me.”

Her “nothing” consisted of being hidden, together with her parents, in the cellar of a Polish Christian couple during World War II. They were in hiding for 16 months. Maybe it seems like “nothing” to her, compared with what my father went through. He survived the Warsaw ghetto and ten concentration camps. His entire family was wiped out by the Germans. Now that’s a story, my mother says. What’s her story, anyone’s story, compared to his?

This is my mother’s way, to treat her experiences matter-of-factly, to put it all behind her and move on. And, I must admit, I was more than happy to move on with her. My father’s frequent references to Those Days more than made up for her reticence. Against the roar of my father’s pain and rage, hers was but a still small voice, barely a murmur. 

            For a long time.

For the longest time.

            Until something changed.

 

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