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In the Old Testament, angels warned Lot and his wife not to look back on Sodom and Gomorrah as they fled. When Lot’s wife chose to do so anyway, she was reduced to a pillar of salt.
Anna Salton Eisen, Jewish author and daughter of Holocaust survivors, takes the risk of looking back in her recently published book, “Pillar of Salt: A Daughter’s Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust,” written in collaboration with her son, Aaron Eisen.
Like most survivors of horrific tragedy, Anna’s mother and father preferred leaving the horror of their experience in the past.
Accepting the reality that their loved ones and hometowns were destroyed, George and Ruth Salton married and began rebuilding a family, first in New York and eventually the suburbs of Maryland.
Jewish lives were so devastated, survivors believed they were like Adam: “Nothing came before me. Everything and everyone is gone, and it all starts over with me!”
Their children, and all children of Holocaust survivors, are labeled the “Second Generation.”
“Pillar of Salt” takes readers through Anna’s own journey of helping her parents remember that they were not Adam and helping them journey back to their identities. That journey unfolds in three parts, with part one tracing Anna’s American childhood.
As the Second Generation, Anna and her three brothers grew up in a traditional American setting. Aside from their parent’s accents and their Jewish traditions, their childhood was similar to their non-Jewish neighbors.
“Though her parents rarely spoke of their dark past, glimpses of their nightmare came in small bits — discovering her father’s vivid paintings, overhearing conversations or listening to the occasional story from her dad’s past.”
Though her parents rarely spoke of their dark past, glimpses of their nightmare came in small bits — discovering her father’s vivid paintings, overhearing conversations or listening to the occasional story from her dad’s past.
Anna’s own curiosity increased as she learned of the Holocaust in middle school and college and as an eventual volunteer in a Holocaust museum.
After confronting her father about his silence and her desire to know her family’s story, part two travels with Anna, her parents and siblings back to Europe.
George Salton’s nightmare began as a 13-year-old boy as he entered the first of 10 Nazi work camps.
With his family beside him, Mr. Salton returned to once-familiar towns, family homes and camps in search of a past to share with his family. Each stop brought memories of transports, hunger, brutal winters, roll calls and selections determining who lived and who died.
In part three of “Pillar of Salt,” Anna takes readers through the process of helping her father write his memoirs and the connections that came after its publication.
Through interesting events, Anna and her father met the widow of an American soldier who helped liberate the Wöbbelin concentration camp where Anna’s father last stayed. They also met children from two of George’s closest friends and fellow prisoners through the 10 different camps.
With each new story and connection, Anna’s father slowly realizes he was not Adam; he was not alone.
Of particular interest is the role of Christians in the story of Anna’s family. As the Nazis entered towns and began their evil work, many Christians remained silent and did little to defend their Jewish friends and neighbors. But not all were silent.
Anna’s mother, 13 years old when Germans stopped a train she was riding on, was protected by a Polish railroad conductor who quietly led her away to a Jewish safehouse for women and children.
Readers interested in history will appreciate “Pillar of Salt” for its insights into Jewish life and experience through a devastatingly tragic moment in history.
Christians will find an insightful look into the pain and generational impact of evil.
Hopefully, all readers will be reminded of our shared calling to love our neighbor and work toward the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.
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Read more about Anna Salton Eisen and a “reunion” of Holocaust survivors’ family members that she organized. This Associated Press story was a freelance feature written by Bobby Ross Jr., The Christian Chronicle’s editor-in-chief.
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