Aftermath: Coming-of-Age on Three Continents
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Published by: Amsterdam Publishers
Release Date: September 13, 2022
“I spent the first three years of my life unaware of the disaster that had befallen my family.” Annette Libeskind Berkovits writes: “I was shaped by the aftermath of the Holocaust...I adapted...grew a protective shield for self-preservation, then put on a smile and moved forward to meet the world on my own terms.”
She was born in exile among the red poppy-strewn foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and raised in Soviet Kyrgyzstan. Annette and her parents returned via cattle train to Poland only to discover that the Nazis had murdered almost their entire extended family and reduced their homes to rubble. After her parents obtained exit visas from the Soviet authorities, she became a teenage immigrant to two different countries in the space of two years.
Israel, a country barely ten years old - rough, sweet, vibrant, with its brilliant sky and azure sea - was like stepping into Technicolor after Poland’s dreary grays. Annette fell in love with it. But just two years later Annette’s life was upended again when the family was driven to emigrate to America.
Leaving the blue of Israel behind Annette was greeted by the green patina of the Statue of Liberty as the ship reached New York harbor. Her father and an Auschwitz survivor aunt welcomed the family with excitement, but many obstacles lay ahead.
The American immigrant experience is realized here from a perspective of a young girl. New languages, customs, and cultures, learned at lightning speed while mastering the normal angst of adolescence, make this a vivid and immersive memoir, rich with the detail of everyday life. Annette graduated from one of the most selective public high schools in America and later became an internationally respected wildlife conservation educator and a writer of memoir, poetry, and historical fiction. Her brother, Daniel Libeskind, the internationally renowned architect, is very much a part of her story.
Advance Praise for “Aftermath: Coming of Age on Three Continents” a memoir
“Annette Libeskind Berkovits’ Aftermath is a gorgeous bouquet of a book, chronicling her family's journey from Soviet Kyrgyzstan to Poland in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, their subsequent sojourn in Israel and, finally, their gamble on building a new life for themselves in the United States. It is both a touching coming-of-age memoir and an inspirational immigrant story, an absolute pleasure to read.”
—Andrew Nagorski; an award-winning author and journalist who spent more than three decades as a foreign correspondent and editor for Newsweek. Former Vice President and director of public policy for the East-West Institute, an international affairs think tank. Author of Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power, 2012; The Nazi Hunters, 2016; and 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War
“Aftermath is a delightful memoir that draws you in with its lively, child’s-eye perspective. Spanning three continents, the book vividly depicts the constrictions of post-war Poland, the vibrant energy and material rigors of the young state of Israel, and the expansiveness of the post-war American dream. Berkovits is sensitive to what it feels like to carry the burdens of history on the slim shoulders of childhood; to the dislocation and identity confusion of the immigrant experience; and to the ways in which a child absorbs parental trauma. Most of all, the book is a joyful celebration of the adaptability and resilience of childhood.”
—Rabbi Rena Blumenthal, psychologist in New York City and Jerusalem; author of The Book of Israela; Former Assistant Director of the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life and Advisor to Jewish Students at Vassar College and Board member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
“In her charming and inspiring memoir, Annette Libeskind Berkovits, manages to combine terror, deprivation, desperation, hope, romance, and humor into an artful story of wandering, love, loss, and ultimately triumph. Berkovits’ personal journey from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, to Poland, to Kibbutz Gvat, then Tel Aviv and finally New York, mirrors the awesome and awful saga of 20th century Jews. Berkovits draws the reader deeply into her sad, wounded, but loving family, even as she presents the full range of the modern Jewish experience from tragic loss to redemption and healing.”
—Rabbi Phil Graubart is the Judaica Director at the San Diego Jewish Academy. He is an author of ten books, the latest being Women and God
“Aftermath is an enthralling coming-of-age memoir recounting the hardships and challenges facing a young girl's family in the years following the Holocaust. Searching for a place to call home, they move from a valley in Kyrgyzstan to the streets of war-torn Poland and then to a kibbutz in Israel, a land of dazzling contrasts. The children quickly learn Hebrew and relax into the communal lifestyle of the kibbutz, but life is not easy for the parents. The mother, a talented seamstress, has little interest in farming and, more importantly, the father, not speaking Hebrew, cannot find a job in Israel. What to do? Go to America, 'the Golden Land.'
With characters you genuinely care about, exotic locales, and edge-of-your-seat tension, Aftermath is the best memoir I've read in years.”
—Barbara Donsky, EdD; International Best-Selling author of Missing Mother and Veronica's Grave: A Daughter's Memoir
“Aftermath by Annette Libeskind Berkovits is one of those necessary books that provides a rare account of the lives of Holocaust survivors after the war. Most survivors did not repatriate, but the Libeskind family did for some post war years. It poignantly depicts how this Jewish family negotiated the residual antisemitism in Poland as it tried to re-establish itself. An impossible feat, the family then followed the heart-rending nomadic path of so many survivors, moving from place to place until almost out of exhaustion, they settled in the U.S.
The book is the tender and disturbing coming-of age memoir of the author as she is wrenched from one place to another and repeatedly finds herself having to learn a new language and the ways of yet another culture. It is also a little-treated story of gender in this population, as the family deals with the post-war reduced status of the father and his support of the author’s younger brother, who would grow up to be the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. This book is a sequel to her family Holocaust memoir, In the Unlikeliest of Places, which is an unusual depiction of Jewish survival in the Soviet Union and has been translated into Polish. Aftermath is Berkovits’ fifth book. The Corset Maker, her fourth book, a historical novel was released in March 2022.”
—Ellen G. Friedman, PhD. Professor of English and Women’s & Gender Studies, The College of New Jersey; Coordinator of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program; author of The Seven, a Family Holocaust Story
“Aftermath is the remarkable memoir of two resourceful children and their parents as the they emerge from the losses of the Holocaust. In cinematic, unsentimental language, Berkovits places us at the scenes of the crimes: “In our family alone, at least sixty people had been exterminated: aunts, uncles, cousins and my maternal grandmother.” But she also depicts personal victories, such as her classroom walkout with four Jewish girls to protest being shamed in school during Christian prayers in Poland or getting into one of the most selective public high schools in America without taking the required entrance exam.
Aftermath is both a personal and universal immigrant survival story of striving for the American Dream, but with an important subplot. Before feminism was a glimmer in Gloria Steinem’s eye, there were girls and women like Berkovits and her mother. Gritty, intelligent, iron-willed survivors who, against all odds, made the best of the worst possible situations, stitching together a new American life.”
—Alan Sharavsky; Author of Boarding School Bastard, A Memoir: Life in an Orphanage for Fatherless Boys
“As a non-native speaker of English I was amazed (and a little jealous) of Annette Berkovits’ linguistic ability when I read her memoir, Aftermath. She not so much learned languages as absorbed them. Growing up speaking Polish, she quickly became fluent in Hebrew when her Holocaust survivor parents were finally able to obtain exit visas and moved to Israel in 1957. When a couple of years later the family moved again, this time to New York, when Berkovits was 16, she only knew two things about America: the Statue of Liberty and Coca-Cola. Yet she quickly mastered enough English to gain access to one of New York City’s most prestigious high schools, skipping the mandatory entrance exam and graduating with honors.
Many immigrants, especially young people, will relate to Berkovits’ story: the feeling of loss and the urge to return to the place where one had matured. Her yearning for Israel became so strong in New York she even dreamt of stowing away on a ship to return. Israel had become her home - the place where she left many of her closest friends. But soon after Annette graduated college the miasma of the Holocaust she’d carried from childhood began to lift as she embraced her American life with new dreams.”
—Benno Groeneveld, retired U.S. correspondent for Dutch and Belgian media
“…I am rolling my new name on my tongue, tasting it like some strange fruit. Anat. Anat – doesn’t quite conform to the shape of my mouth. It feels too guttural and foreign. It contorts my epiglottis. It’s the third name I have been given in my thirteen years. Everyone says that I better get used to it quickly, but I wonder if I will change along with it. Will I become someone else, or be the same old Ania in Anat’s skin?
Aunt Chava rolls up the shade. Sun pours in through the window with a blinding intensity, making me squint. The bluest sky I have ever seen squeezes in through my eyelashes. It shimmers. Its brightness is unnerving. Its unreal cerulean hue seems surreal like my presence in this place.
“Anat, get up, we have a plan for this morning. Remember?” Chava snaps me out of my disoriented state in her amusing Hebrew accented Polish. She has been away from her native Warsaw for more than two decades. I wonder if this is how I will sound at some distant time, but I am unable to imagine it.
“Anat, did you hear me?” Chava calls out from the next room.
“Yes, ciociu. I am getting ready.”
Anat? I try to convince myself that it is really my new name. Maybe years from now it will not feel so awkward, but for now it grates on my nerves.
After an overwhelming sense of relief when we came to this beautiful valley where the fragrance alone can transport you to Paradise and meeting the family, so loving and welcoming...well, that was two weeks ago! Now, I don’t feel so enchanted anymore. Mama and Tinek left Daniel and me on our own! No one says for how long. Not knowing drives me crazy.
This morning I dawdle, still thinking about my odd new name, like so many other strange things I have been seeing for the last two weeks. Will anything here ever become as familiar as the home I left behind? It can’t happen soon enough, for I stick out like an albino among my bronze-skinned peers, whose tanned legs flash out of their white shorts like chiseled columns…”