Anna Rosner Blay
Adriane [Hebblewhite, author of Seasons of Love,] Tasmania, 17/05/98
I have spent this weekend reading your book Sister, Sister – or should I say: crying through your book. Thank you for writing it. Your aunt and your mother in their gentle strength are so very present. It is a powerful read.
We are both second generation to the horror of the Holocaust. my parents were young Germans who went to war for their country. I was born in Frankfurt, 1952, and grew up in post-war Germany. There was silence in Germany too. Shame, guilt, disbelief, denial, silence. My parents are very open-minded, but for many years nobody could talk about it. When I finally discovered the truth, it drove me out of Germany, along with other personal dramas.
Your book is the first personal story of a survivor that I have read. I haven’t looked for such books for years, knowing how much they distress me. The pain is totally overwhelming. It has not words, no images, other than those we are all familiar with from stories and films. I don’t know where this intensity is coning from.
Is it a normal reaction that any human being would have?
Is it the guilt of being German?
Is it the silent pain I absorbed from my parents as a child?
Or was I there?
Sometimes, more and more, it feels as if I was there. Unbearably familiar.
In ‘Schindler’s List’ I started sobbing when the truck loaded the children and took them away. I didn’t stop till the next day.
In ‘Sophie’s Choice’ I tore inside when she had to send her daughter into death.
In your book, I cracked when the SS officer killed the baby in the knapsack, in the ghetto of Krakow.
Where is all this coming from?
Ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is, that it must never happen again. What matters is that I kiss my daughter and my sons every day, cherishing their precious presence in my life. What matters is, that we love enough.
The rest are tears.
[…] After I posted the letter I thought of ‘the other’. I wondered whether it was quite inappropriate of me, as a German, to burden your with MY pain. Maybe I should have simply said ‘I’m sorry!’.
When I bump my shopping trolley into someone’s bottom at the supermarket I say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry!’ Can I say ‘I’m sorry!’ to you and your mother? ‘I’m sorry that my fellow Germans killed your entire family and tormented you, an innocent teenager, for six endless years’?
‘I’m sorry’ seems so inappropriate, for you and for me, so trivial, so little, so simple. Usually when we say ‘I’m sorry’, it’s over. The issue is dealt with. The Holocaust is in a different league altogether. I remember once seeing an Israeli say on television: ‘We can forgive the things that happen to us. But we have no right to forgive the wrong that has been done to other people’.
Yes, of course, I am sorry. But more than that: I am aching, I feel responsible, I wonder if I’m guilty, I feel ashamed – and most importantly – I feel totally helpless in the face of the horror of it all. What can I, as a German, offer you in the way of support and comfort?
Letter to Anna’s mother, Helen from a friend Dorothy, 2/6/98
I have just finished reading Sister, Sister. It was so sensitively and beautifully written, I couldn’t put the book down. Your daughter loves you so very much!
I cried for you and Janka, and felt honoured to be counted as a friend of such brave women. […]
I feel privileged to have read the book and to know you and feel the love and warmth that emanates from your talented daughter Anna. Everyone, absolutely everyone with any humanity, should read this book.
I write with dual purpose: firstly to congratulate you and wish you mazel tov on the publication of Sister, Sister. Secondly to thank you. I feel privileged to have been invited to share your thoughts and feelings, to have journeyed with you as you sought to make sense of snippets of your own childhood and where your mothers story impacted on you.
The courage, just in the beginnings, in seeking to find our answers and to document your own, in their, story – commands immense admiration1
My own background is of any generations in Australia, a large sprawling family with an accessible and traceable history. Yet your quest to find answers is one I see around me amongst my friends on an increasing basis.
Anna, again thank you for the honour of journeying with you. I feel enlightened at its end.
Scott, a young man in his twenties, 1/09/98
At first glance I expected to be reading your book from a distance. I thought that to read such literature without being Jewish would be like taking another history lesson.
Now I have finished your book and each part is as vivid to me now as when I was reading it. Your writing drew pictures for me and in turn became alive itself. Rarely have I read a book that was seemingly being acted out as I moved through it.
Your book made me feel every bit a human with all of my great parts and failings, hopes, dreams and dark times. Without understanding the true depth of emotion and experiences behind the book, I will always consider it to have been a truly important one for me to have read. During this stage of my life it has had a profound impact and I will always remember this. Many people must be very proud of you!
Yours with great and heartfelt sincerity …
Judy [Krape], N Balwyn, 3/11/98
I have, five minutes ago, finished reading your book Sister, Sister. I want to congratulate you on your sensitive and eloquent work. Although not a Holocaust survivor or daughter of survivors, I want to tell you that from my earliest memories I sensed many adults’ pain, and in my own darkest moments, wondered how I would survive ordeals you describe in your book. I don’t actually know how it is that I could imagine such horrific degradation that your parents and so many others experienced, but like you, intuited their pain and experiences … I am absolutely in awe at not only their resilience, but also their ability to live such full lives after the difficult experiences.
Not only were you able to write about those times in my language, but you also gave me the opportunity to understand a role of the depth of spirit in human beings. Your own input into the testimony gave voice to those of us who felt pain for what we had not directly experienced or understood … The strength and ability of those survivors to procreate and provide their children with a love of life, an understanding of the past, and a vision for a good future is nothing short of miraculous …
I want to add that the mutual trust in your mother and aunt is most admirable. Given how they ha suffered, their ability to work with you through this difficult journey is a tribute to you and the person you are.
Mazal tov and thank you.
Lois, E. Doncaster, 17/08/99
Dear Ms Blay,
I am 74 years of age and have just read your book Sister, Sister. Thank you for making me realise how blessed I’ve been all my life. I can’t help thinking of those courageous women; their story touched me to the core.
Yours sincerely …
Inga Clendinnen, writer of Reading the Holocaust, Melbourne
Thank you for the gift of your book. It is a fine gift, demonstrating so clearly the tenacious love between sisters, between husband and wife, between parents and children – and then grandchildren. It is always engrossing. But its real quality lies in your own reflections, and your descriptions – of the Caulfield jungle, the picnics, the secret post-party feasts. It is important that you should go on writing. Please do.
Christine, Rydalmere N.S.W, 9/04/99
Dear Ms Blay,
I read Sister, Sister last year and immediately sent it to my mother-in-law who was as moved by your story and the recounting of your aunt’s and mother’s horrific experiences as I was …
Your writing, yourself, Hela and Janka lave stayed with me all year, so I bought Sister, Sister again to read and re-read this Easter. With the greatest of respect I wish to thank you for writing, posthumously thank Janka for deciding to her you about her persecution, and last but not least, thank you to your mother for sharing such intimate aspects of her struggles to survive. I’ve cried and cried in sympathy for the terrible plight of the Jews through the Holocaust. Also that your mother and yourself no longer have Janka with you.
Yours sincerely …
Cliff & Norma, Mt Waverley, 13/07/00
Dear Ms Blay,
… I am writing on your authorship of Sister, Sister. Your book is unique in style, particularly in interspersing your own reflections between the recollections of your mother and auntie.
That you succeeded in the sensitive task of drawing out these recollections so long after the pain of those tragic years, and committing them to print in such a vivid, readable presentation is a tribute to your literary skills. Your book certainly brought an emotive response from my wife and me.
In the process you have done a great service to your sons and their descendants; otherwise this part of your family history may well have been lost …
Loretta, Melbourne, 13/01/03
I have finally had a chance to read Sister, Sister. It is a breathtaking literary work. The strength of your mother and your aunt in surviving these horrors fills me with awe. The images you so vividly portrayed will continue to haunt me. Strangely, I also identified with many of your childhood reflections, although I'm still not sure why. I couldn't put it down and it will remain one of the most precious books in my collection.
Else, Brighton, 31/08/01
I have recently read your account of your mother’s and aunt’s story of their lives, and want to thank you for portraying their stories and your feelings so sensitively, yet bringing home to the reader a balanced view. Sister, Sister is a gripping and moving book.
Dear Ms Rosner Blay,
Please forgive me for taking the liberty of writing to you, however, I recently read your novel Sister, Sister and felt compelled to tell you how much I valued this experience.
Your novel was lent to me my a former colleague of yours … Once I began it I simply couldn’t put it down. I appreciated its simplicity but also its honesty, and I can only begin to understand what an exercise it must have been for you to write.
I particularly enjoyed the style in which you wrote your novel i.e. giving the perspective of both sisters and then offering snippets of the effect of being your mother’s child and your life as a result. Your strong sense of ‘voice’ made reading this novel a very personal experience for me, as well as offering different insights into this terrible period of our history.
Felicity, W.A. 13/01/99
I should like to congratulate you on Sister, Sister. I found it enlightening and poignant, and it personalised a tragedy about which I knew tantalisingly little You have been in the ideal position to write such an account and I thank you for taking up the challenge.
The colourful Australian patchwork has only been enriched by people such as your parents.
Mila and Poldek Pfefferberg (who revealed the Schindler story to Tom Keneally), L.A. USA
[…] What a wonderful homage to your mother and auntie Janka – I was moved to tears! Your mother’s and our own war experiences were almost identical, and we’ve read several books about the Krakow ghetto, Plaszow, Auschwitz and finally Brinnlitz, but your book somehow seems more personal and therefore much closer to our hearts.
I am so impressed with your writing style; it is so lyrical, especially the passages when you write about yourself, your thoughts and your feelings with such wonderful sensitivity. At the same time the book is a very factual and important document on this period in history, but written with great originality.
Dear Ania, we are so very proud of you and we wish you continued success as a writer …
Darlene, USA, 12/07/98
I just want to let you know that I am reading your book (an Australian 2-G friend, sent it to me) and I hope you find a way to distribute it in the U.S. I really think you did a terrific job. It's like reading a testimony but you interspersed your experience really well throughout. I admire you for writing it. I hope to write a book one day on my experiences meeting so many different 2-G's around the world.
Tamar, UK, 28/07/98
I stayed up half of last night to finish your book, and have spent all of today completely taken over by it. I'm sure you've had lots of good feedback, and here is mine too. Your mother and you aunt are two amazing women, and their story is extraordinary and moving. But the way you wrote it has made it even more special. I especially like the structure, the way you are constantly there as a listener, and daughter, and occasional, sensitive but separate commentator who never takes over, while making her experience felt too. I think you've managed to find an enviable balance of representing the story AND yours (well, bits of your, okay). I cried at your sad twist on
Dayeynu. My head is still so full of it, I'm probably not as articulate as I'd like to be!
I will get in touch with the UK publicity people tomorrow morning and see what they would prefer. I would like to do a profile + review, if that's ok with you. Maybe I could do a telephone interview and continue by email? I'll be in touch. There are so many questions...
Oh, and your granddaughter is beautiful. What a wonderful picture to chose!
All the best,
Nomi, Israel, 4/09/98
… Once I started your book, I couldn’t let it out of my hands, although I’m sure you know it is not easy to read, and although I knew the ‘end’. It was not easy, because most of the time I had tears in my eyes, which also made the reading difficult. I think you really wrote it well, especially because you took the right distance and most of the time you are describing the events in a matter-of-fact manner, with as little sentiment as possible. This is good, because the events are such that anyway no vocabulary in any language has the adequate adjectives. You never told me much about your parents or your uncle and aunt, and I met them only once. But through your book I learnt to really admire them. How they never lost their self-dignity, how they never stopped hoping and loving – this really made my heart go out to then. The bond between the two sisters is so special and rare and beautiful.
Ros [David], India
…The running thread of your need to connect with the past and your compassion for the suffering of not only your own family but all other people, were two strong elements of Sister, Sister … Anna, it is a tremendously satisfying book on many counts: moving, powerful and so evocative. I loved the simplicity which lends its voice such authenticity …
Ruth, Israel, 17/01/99
I am almost finished reading your book and I am afraid I will forget to tell you how gripping and powerful and sensitive and beautiful it is. I love its format with the women – you included - braiding their experiences together. I felt totally involved in the semiotics of their communication over the generation gap - over the years - over the experiences. There was something so personal in it for me that at times I had to put the book down. I congratulate you on this book. And I thank you for writing it. The above does but little to describe my reaction. I identified with so much, it is amazing. So we are alike as we are different.
I have just finished the book. It was beautiful and only got better as I read on,. I needed to stop at times because of the strong emotions it awoke in me. I cried at your mother's description of your birth and the way she took care of you and your cousin. In fact, the bond between the sisters is an incredible thing and the book vibrates with their love. You have done a beautiful thing. At times the voices became confused and it was hard to know who was saying what but the experiences were clear and direct, unhidden by language yet not clinical. I loved the book, truly. What needs to be done to get it here? shavua tov.
James, London, England , 25/09/00
You know I believe in miracles also! This letter hopefully reaches you across the miles, as I write in respect, after reading your profound book Sister, Sister. There are no words to describe how deeply moving your inspired writing has affected my soul. Outside my Victorian window, it is raining tears from heaven.. Which I think is an apt opportunity to express my inner thoughts. This is difficult but I will try to explain. Your beloved mother Hela and your late romantic aunt Janka, have inspired me to now know the true meaning of ‘indomitable spirit’. Concerning every trial and tribulation they did endure; thus triumphant against sorrow and incomprehensible tragedies. During a time of madness, whereby present history records shame and injustice. Yet mumbling feeble excuses, feigning a guilty conscience regarding a race persecuted just because they were successful but different. The past has been conveniently forgotten concerning previous centuries.
Your book is a testament to what was. That will be a lesson taught among future generations. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword! Once again, thank you for writing the simple voices of humanity. Echoes in silence. I am enclosing a cheque of £25 to buy a bouquet of flowers, which I trust you shall place upon the hallowed grave of Janka, who touched my heart for her bravery and resilience. As for your darling mother Hela, well just give her a hug from a stranger who is a friend ye have not met. God bless you and your family in all that ye may say or do spelling the future.
Anne Karpf, author of The War After, London, England, 9/03/01
… I’ve just read your book – devoured more like – and found it wonderful, very moving. And the similarities! Of course I knew about your father from my mother. But I was astonished to read that your mother left Plaszow for Auschwitz-Birkenau just one day before mine. The faces in the photos all look so much like ours, the accounts of pre-war Polish Jewish life are so similar, the wartime experiences so parallel … I shouldn’t be surprised, of course, but still it took my breath away.
I shall tell people about your book whenever the opportunity arises, and hope it has had the success it deserves.
READER RESPONSES TO SISTER SISTER