Dancing Lessons and Other Problems
A Child Survivor of the Holocaust Writes About the Postwar Years
It is difficult to imagine something without experiencing it first-hand, especially something as horrific as the Holocaust. When R. Gabriele S. Silten returned home to Holland at the age of twelve she was asked what the camps were like. She could only shrug her shoulders. How could she explain her horrible and strange journey?
Gabriele Silten was a young child living in Holland during World War II. She was sent to Westerbork and Theriesienstadt concentration camps where she remained for four years. She was eight when she entered and twelve when she returned home to Holland, and those four years had changed her forever. The happy memories of her early childhood had been eclipsed by nightmare.
Silten's new memoir Is the War Over? is about life after returning from the concentration camps. Here she recounts funny, absurd, and sad moments when the two worlds came together and she was made painfully aware of the schism created by her strange and horrific experiences. There was anger as she first intellectually and then emotionally began to comprehend what she had lived through. Gradually she discovered where all those people who never returned from the camps had gone. She was taught good manners that she once had learned but forgot. The dance lessons her parents provided, among the many other social events she was obligated to participate in, terrified her. And after all she had been through she found it difficult to meet other children and make casual conversation.
Later there were physical problems, first jobs, moving to new countries, and countless other firsts for Silten, but throughout she was first a child survivor of the Holocaust. But Is the War Over? shows that a survivor can be a productive member of society, moving on with life, even if she will never forget the nightmare. Is the War Over? ends with a list titled "What Happened And To Whom," a fitting finish to the book and another straightforward look at the effects of the Holocaust on real people.
R. Gabriele Silten is Professor Emerita of European Languages at Pasadena City College. She lives and writes in Pomona, California. She is the author of another memoir, Between Two Worlds, and two collections of poetry, High Tower Crumbling and Dark Shadows, Bright Life.