We often share travel and books as some of our favorite topics for conversation when networking. This summer by strange coincidence I combined the two. It all started by joining a book club.
Since I seem to gravitate towards the same types of books, I thought it would expand my reading horizons. So earlier this year I took the plunge at my local Edmonton public library where they even provide a librarian as book club host. I really enjoyed the new books and discussions.
Then in June we traveled to Washington DC and while there we visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Even though it was an experience that left me emotionally drained, it was an important visit nonetheless. It not only provided a vivid historical record but I was touched by the human face it put to the tragedy.
When I returned home, I received notification from the library that a book hold that I had requested months ago, before i joined the book club, had finally come in; Letters From The Lost. I couldn’t quite remember what it was about and why I had even requested it. I must have heard an interview with the author on one of CBC radio’s book shows.
In any event, while I was at the library picking up the book, I inquired about the July book club read, and guess what, the librarian told me that it was Letters From The Lost – A Memoir of Discovery by Helen Waldstein Wilkes, the very same book that I had requested! Wow, what a coincidence! I guess I was meant to read this book.
The book comprises Helen’s life and journey of discovery of a hidden box of letters from relatives her parents had left behind when fleeing Europe. These letters give a personal glimpse into what the holocaust did to everyday families and their survivors.
Interestingly, Helen and her parents immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario as did my family. While being new Italian speaking Canadians in the early sixties wasn’t a picnic, we didn’t face the same kind of discrimination they did being Jewish immigrants just before the start of WWII. And of course we didn’t leave family members behind in Italy that were persecuted and exterminated.
I devoured the book in a weekend and found it heart wrenching and incredibly moving. I could only read it in chunks as it was disturbing knowing that it would not end well. Still, I think it’s a must read for anyone who wants to understand the personal consequences of Canada and the U.S.A barring Jewish immigration and hopefully not forget or repeat the past when admitting new refugees.
The letters and photos throughout this remarkable book help you to relate to them as human beings, not numbers. They could easily be your mother or father, brothers, sisters and cousins — people just like you and me. It puts a human face to all refugees and to the 6 million Jews that were unable to escape obliteration.
Thanks to Helen for sharing this memoir. Her relatives and lessons learned will live on in my memory. (Terry who has done much reading on WWII, also prized this book as he was moved and surprised at what he learned.) A great reminder in this time of increased nationalism, to reach out, connect and look for our similarities not our differences. I can’t wait to share the conversation with my book club members.
What books are you reading this summer? Please share your discoveries below.
Posted by Joanne Blake – Conversational networking specialist and avid reader