"Reclaiming the Past"

Anna Rosner Blay

Our last meeting on Sunday 19th of July attracted nearly 50 people including several new members. We were pleased to see so many people given the dreary winter night, but knew that you would be eager to hear Anna Rosner Blay, author of "Sister, Sister", recount her experiences of reclaiming the past.

Anna, a very engaging speaker, talked to us from her heart, sharing the joys and hardships of the difficult journey she faced while recording the accounts of her mother and her aunt.

Anna described the past as a paradox, and emptiness, a burden. As a child, no one spoke to her of the past. This led to sensing it as a burden, as if she was carrying something very heavy on her shoulders. Writing was a process of recognizing this burden and lifting it.

In her book, Anna tried to make the past come alive. When she first started writing, she wanted to record her family's stories, but later she realised she was also writing for herself. It was a process of healing, of establishing links with relatives she never knew and of finding a sense of continuity for her family and for herself.

Anna said she has often been asked why she felt the need to open old wounds of her mother's and aunt's , to sift through their memories and to meticulously record their stories. A few experiences led her to recognizing this need: a talk on the stages of grief - how we must confront our pain and not ignore it. A poem by Lily Brett, daughter of survivors, moved her. She communicated with people from all over the world on a Jewish genealogy site on the Internet. She studied a photo of her grandfather, whom she never knew; his eyes willing her to connect with him. Things began to prod and haunt her and she knew she had to embark on this journey of reclaiming her past.

The process of writing was slow; it took her four years to reconstruct her mother's and aunt's lives, piece by piece. It was a recognition, of knowing again something she always knew, even though they had not been openly discussed before.

A major catalyst for writing her book was Thomas Keneally's book "Schindler's Ark". His book was very personal. to Anna, filled with names of people she knew. No longer could she avoid looking at the past. She started by interviewing her aunt, whose story spilled out. Anna's aunt was very eager to talk, her stories interlaced with her philosophy and unshakable optimism. For her mother, it was more difficult to look into the blackness. But they knew this was very important and once they started, they could not stop.

Anna tried very hard to capture the essence of their stories in words and was afraid of misinterpretation. Later she added her own reflections and childhood dreams as her mother's and aunt's stories triggered her own memories.

The book is not written for survivors, Anna concluded. They have their own memories to deal with every day. It is written for the second and third generations. As it says in the book of Job: "Tell your children of it..."

Several questions and book signings followed Anna's talk. It was a most enlightening and inspiring evening, especially for any budding authors who were in the audience.

Thank you, Anna for a wonderful evening.