Daughter of Holocaust Survivors, Inspirational,
“My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me”
Travels From: St-Colomban, Quebec
Fee Range: $2000 – $3000
Gina’s story, the factual and the fiction, is as challenging as it is inspiring: the gruesome Nazi brutality and hatred to the indomitable spirit of a Jewish mother and her daughter. Coming up on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII this is a story that we all should hear regardless of place, time or religion. It is moving and infuriating, it will make you feel helpless and by the end inspired and determined.
Gina Roitman is a writer and poet, author of “Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth.” As a child of survivors, her parents’ lives and stories paved the road she walks today. It’s a circumstance that she shares with many people around the world. She believes that they – the second generation – have a responsibility to recount these stories and ensure that truths are told before they are buried by time.
Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth
“That’s how we lived, surrounded by ghosts. They sat at the table while we ate our Sunday meal. They lay beside us in the bed as we slept…”
In Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth, author Gina Roitman has captured her own experience as the daughter of Holocaust survivors in the character of Leah Smilovitz. Leah lives in a world trapped between two solitudes. An outsider, she belongs neither to her parents’ painful generation nor to her own, freshly minted in the freedoms and contradictions of Montréal in the 1950s and 60s.
Growing up in a community of immigrants forever bound to the past, Leah tests the boundaries of her independence. This poignant and often funny collection of linked stories takes us through her rebellions, loves found and lost, and the pain of being helpless in the face of irreparable circumstances. Coming of age in a generation looking for its own identity, Leah struggles against old world fears and taboos to move into a more hopeful future.
Did my mother save my life or was her story the paranoid anxiety of a Holocaust survivor?
My journey began as research for a novel, a work of fiction. It quickly grew into a documentary, when at almost every turn I uncovered accounts that are not only relevant to me as an individual, but to history.
My Mother, the Nazi Midwife and Me is a compelling, award-winning documentary that unearths a chilling story about the systematic murder of Jewish infants in a DP camp after the end of World War II.
UNPACKING THE SUITCASE
Upon birth, I believe we are handed a suitcase that someone else has packed. It is baggage we will carry all our lives and yet, if we were passing through customs with it, what would we answer when asked: who packed it?
This suitcase that we lug everywhere is filled with the hurts and happiness, triumphs and disasters, traumas and terrors that our parents have gifted us and often includes leftovers from what their parents handed to them. The burden is passed along without conscious intention; it’s inexorable.
Some suitcases are no bigger than tote bags while others, often those handed to children of survivors who struggled to stay alive through one war or another, weigh the most.
Being accustomed from birth to shouldering the weight, most of us accept the burden as if it is an integral component of our make-up – an intrinsic part of who we are. Of course, as we grow older, we will acquire a new and empty suitcase, and start filling it with our own things. It is only around middle age, when exhaustion and aching backs start setting in do we think to stop in order to examine the contents.
If our parents are still with us, we might tentatively begin asking questions. Many of us don’t, however, either because we’re afraid to learn that we are more like our parents than we thought or because we fear that we will be forced to question what we believe (the notions we are most comfortable with) and who we truly are.
If death robs us of our parents at an early age, that is, before exhaustion can set in, we have forever lost the option – the luxury – of asking for an explanation. We are left to our own devices to decode the DNA of our history.
That is my story.
By the time I realized that I was carrying someone else’s bag, I was 45 years old and had been an orphan since 30. Compelled to explore the contents, all I found were fragments of memories and puzzle pieces that failed to make a complete picture. I struggled like an apprentice shaman, trying to divine a narrative from bones and shrouds, shreds of stories. When you wait too long, the runes do not give up their mystery easily, if at all.
And so I was forced to learn how to pull apart the shreds and spin a story. I now take these stories and send them out as cautionary tales.
“Stop,” I say. “Put down that suitcase. Open it.”
Until that time you have examined the contents, you will be lugging two suitcases through your life. You need to empty one to make room for understanding your own story. With any luck, the load will grow lighter after that.
JEWISH GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY OF MONTREAL
5500 Mackle Road, Apt.201, Montreal (Cote St. Luc), QC, Canada HAW 1V4
Tel: 514-484-0100, Tel: 514-735-4739, Fax: 514-484-7306
A Member of the lnternationol Association of lewish Genealogical Societies
On behalf of the JGS of Montreal, I take this opportunity to thank you for your excellent
presentation on Monday, October 20th.
The introduction of your theme, Unpacking Your Suitcase, and the PPT presentation in
advance of screening your documentary prepared the ground well for your fascinating film,
“My Mother, The Nazi Midwife and Me”.
The audience was spellbound, rendered speechless by what was shown on the screen. At the
film’s end, the questions flew. In fact even a week later, when I bump into people who
attended, they are still telling me how impressed they were with it.
I hope you were happy with the brisk DVD sales of this most impressive film, with its hair raising
Thank you again for providing us with a superb program.
VP & Programming
JEWISH GENEATOGICAL SOCIETY OF MONTREAL
A Member of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies
You had a group of 70 women totally mesmerized. No sound could be heard in the room. Your movie was so well edited, and your story was so well told punctuated with wonderful historical archival footage as well as very interesting interviews. Your personal presence was captivating.
Afterwards, the women could not stop talking about how great the program was. Seventy people in attendance is a testimonial to that.
Thank you very much for bringing yourself and your labor of love, your film ,to The Circle Of Friends.
Frances Block, Circle of Friends, Cummings Centre
I felt some relief on opening Gina Roitman’s “Tell Me a Story, Tell Me the Truth”, for Roitman brings some vigour to the language and unsentimentality to the subject (of the Holocaust). These stories trace the Montreal childhood and adult years of Leah, the daughter of a survivor mother who is anxious, pushy and guilt- inducing…Amazingly, Roitman manages to avoid cliché and make her characters real.
Cary Fagan, The Montreal Gazette
This heartfelt and humorous collection of stories about Leah Smilovitz, daughter of Holocaust survivors, is loosely based on Roitman’s own experiences growing up in Montreal. Roitman cuts to the chase with great wit and one-liners like the time Leah disappoints her mother, who then quips, “I survived Hitler for this?!”. “Tell Me a Story…” is storytelling at its best.
Bugs Burnett, Hour
“Mr. Greene and the Studebaker” is one of the best stories, with never a false note… Gina Roitman is a poet. This book, filled with strong writing, absorbing characters, believable events, and complicated relationships, reads like poetry, restrained and full of emotion.
Rita Berman Frischer, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
This is basic storytelling at its best, relying on strong writing and interesting characters to drive the action forward. Roitman’s writing is evocative and poignant, capable of turning phrases that will open your emotions like a key in a lock…Roitman’s ability to capture enormity with just the right measure of words and accuracy is also remarkable. Adriana Palanca, Montreal Review of Books (mRb)
Although the stories that Roitman explores have a flavour of familiarity to them, she manages to infuse her prose with enough twists that it makes for an interesting and surprising read.
R. Brian Hastie, The (Concordia) Link