The open wounds of the Holocaust - where are my mother's children?

Emuna Elon's newest book, House On Endless Waters, is an important, resonating addition to Jewish fiction, dealing with the tragedies survivors hid from the new families they built after the war.

Ronn Torossian

OpEds National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands in Amsterdam
National Holocaust Museum of the Netherlands in Amsterdam

Just finished reading an extraordinary new book, House on Endless Waters ((Atria Books, 320 pp., ★★★½ out of four stars). From start to finish, I found it to be well-written, touching chock full of character development – and for me like so many others - resonating with stories I could relate to.

The book is a family mystery ripe with great character development and continual plot twists, exploring one man’s quest – initiated when renowned [fictional] Israeli author, Yoel Blum visits his birthplace,Amsterdam on a tour, despite promising his late mother Sonia, a survivor, that he would never return to that city.

During a visit to the city’s Jewish museum he sees a picture of his mom with her family, a pre WWII photograph, and in it, his mom is holding a child he doesn’t recognize. The book explores his adventures to get to the bottom of the mystery throughout Amsterdam – past, present and future – and to trace his mother's life, replete with dreams, visions and more, all in a beautifully written prose. 

90% of Dutch Jews did not survive WWII, many of them turned in by their neighbors, as were Anne Frank and her famly, although readers of her famous diary often do not internalize that important and telling fact. Jews in Holland, in a way that resonates today, found it hard to believe that Nazi horrors would affect them. “It’s common knowledge that harsh and frightening things,” Sonia says as Blum recounts her life in the book, “like those that are reportedly happening in certain other countries, can never happen in Holland.”

Throughout the book, I had memories of stories of growing up in a home where my grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and my late beloved mom  spent so much time researching, reading, and studying about the history of our many family members who were murdered by the Nazis. She attended conferences, discovered obscure files, and spent days at Yad Vashem.  

In the last few months of her life my mother learned that her father, Morris Waga, had been married with a family before he married my grandmother.  He lost that wife and a 3-year old daughter in the camps to the Nazis.  Throughout his entire life after the Holocaust, he never told my mother or her younger brother.

The book discussed underground networks which hid Jewish children during the war, and the burdens which faced those who survived.  The scars of the Holocaust which haunt families and people continues on for many generations. Many have never traced what happened to their loved ones.

The book explored feelings, emotions, identity, belonging, family ties and more. It is beautifully written and a story which covers history and emotion, in the past and present.

The author, Emuna Elon, is an internationally bestselling, critically acclaimed Israeli novelist, journalist, and women’s activist. Born to a family of prominent rabbis and scholars, she was raised in Jerusalem and New York. Her first novel translated into English, If You Awaken Love, was a National Jewish Book Award finalist..  She is the widow of much-respected MK Rabbi Benny Elon, who was a close friend.