The Rights to a Life
Velleman (David)
Source: Written for a conference on “Life-Writing” at the Huntington Library, March 2012
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In After Long Silence, Helen Fremont tells the story of growing up in the Midwest as the daughter of Polish Catholic parents. She recounts some of the stories they told of their courtship in eastern Poland, which was occupied by the Germans, then occupied by the Soviets — who deported her father to Siberia — and then occupied again by the Germans. She recounts the stories they told of his escape back to Poland and, from there, to Rome, where he was reunited with her mother, who had escaped from Poland disguised as an Italian soldier. She recounts the stories they told of their marriage in Rome and eventual emigration to the United States. She tells her own story of growing up in the shadow of her parents’ wartime ordeal. She tells the story of coming out as a lesbian to her parents and her Italian aunt.
  2. Helen tells the story of discovering, in her thirties, that her parents were actually Polish Jews — her mother, the daughter of an orthodox rabbi. She tells the story of gradually uncovering the true history of her parents’ separation, escape, and reunification. She recounts that hair-raising history, including all of the cover-stories that her mother told in order to elude arrest by the Germans, who had reoccupied eastern Poland; including her mother’s new identity as a Polish Catholic girl named Maria, finally married in the Church to her revenant fiancé; including the cover-stories that she told to her daughters as a way of fending off their questions about the past.
  3. Helen tells the story of confronting her parents with what she had learned; she tells the story of their initial denials, their sleepless nights of returning memories, their grudging help in her project of reconstructing the past. She tells the story of discovering, and then explaining to her mother, how her mother’s parents, Helen’s grandparents, had died — not “in a bomb”, as her mother had always said, but in the gas chambers of Belzec. And, finally, she tells the story of telling all of these stories in a book of which her parents disapproved.

Comment:

See academia.edu; downloaded 31/05/2015.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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