Every year, new movies, plays and books about the Holocaust come out. However, not many of these works focus on what happened to people after the Holocaust. How did it affect the survivors? How did families come to terms with what happened to them?
In the 2020 novel “The Takeaway Men,” by author Meryl Ain, readers meet Bronka and Johanna Lubinski, twin sisters who arrive in the U.S. from a displaced persons camp. The book follows them from birth to their teenage years.
Now, Ain brings back the Lubinski twins for the sequel, “Shadows We Carry,” and tells the story of what happened to them during their college years, covering the late 1960s, during at time when American society experienced a great upheaval, including the beginning of the feminist movement. The sisters and their peers struggle with their families’ past and how much of an effect it has on them and their identities. Johanna becomes pregnant, but doesn’t want to get married right away – she wants to follow her dreams. On the other hand, Bronka hopes to marry Ned, a friend from high school, and become a journalist
“I continue the story of the twins and their peers and neighbors,” Ain said. “But in the second book, not only did I want to write about the survivors and the second generation, but I wanted to set it in a very turbulent time of the ’60s and ’70s. There was political and cultural turmoil and women were just beginning to fight for equal rights.”
Ain, a baby boomer, saw the feminist movement as it happened – and experienced discrimination firsthand.
“I was discouraged from going to law school by a male professor,” she said. “I believe that the culture did not encourage me to follow my dreams. Nowadays, there are so many options for women. I want my granddaughters to know that they can be anything they want to be.”
“Shadows We Carry” also deals with antisemitism, a relevant issue today. It includes scenes at a Nazi Youth camp on eastern Long Island called Camp Siegfried; at one time, the community had street names that honored Nazi leaders, including Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels.
“We need to know our history to understand the present.” – Meryl Ain
“We need to know our history to understand the present,” said Ain. “Unfortunately, history seems to be repeating itself now. It’s important to remember that Hitler came to power in increments. We need to be vigilant against antisemitism and all forms of prejudice and discrimination.”
Ain, who taught history and is a member of The International Advisory Board for Holocaust Survivor Day, became interested in learning about the Holocaust when she read “The Diary of Anne Frank” in the sixth grade. Her parents weren’t in the Holocaust, but her mother did enlist in the WAC (Women’s Army Corps) during World War II after she saw a film about Hitler. The author is also friends with many people whose parents or grandparents were survivors.
“I am conscious of the Holocaust and the impact it had, and continues to have, on survivors and their families,” she said.
With “Shadows We Carry,” Ain also wrote about divisions in the Jewish community, which were around in the sixties and are still happening today. In a time of rising antisemitism, it’s important to be unified.
“As a practicing Jew, I think there is currently too much emphasis on labels,” she said. “We need to realize that all Jews are responsible for one another.”