What: Dori Katz, professor emerita of modern languages and literature at Trinity, will introducer her new memoir, Looking for Strangers: The True Story of My Hidden Wartime Childhood, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Kristallnacht was a series of coordinated attacks against Jews in Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on November 9-10, 1938. The word Kristallnacht comes from the broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned buildings and synagogues had their windows smashed. The event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.
When: Thursday, November 14 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Zachs Hillel House, 74 Vernon Street on the Trinity campus.
Background: Katz joined the Trinity faculty in 1969, when she taught French and comparative literature in what was then the Department of Modern Languages and Literature. She also served as acting chair of the department.
Katz is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who thought that her memories of her childhood years in Belgium were irrecoverable. But after viewing a documentary about hidden children in German-occupied Belgium, she realized that she might be able to unearth those years.
According to the synopsis on Amazon, Looking for Strangers, published by the University of Chicago Press, “is the deeply honest record of [Katz’s] attempt to do so, a detective story that unfolds through one of the most horrifying periods in history in an attempt to understand one’s place within it.”
Katz uses details from her mother’s stories that have captivated Katz over the course of her life alongside an account of her own return to Belgium 40 years later – against her mother’s urging. She reconnects her sharp but fragmented memories: being sent by her mother in 1943, at the age of three, to live with a Catholic family, then being given up, inexplicably, to an orphanage in the years immediately following the war.
Only after that was Katz able to reconnect with her mother. Katz eventually ends up in San Francisco, speaking with a man who claimed to have known her father in Auschwitz, where he met his death. Using other stories from people Katz has met along the way, she stitches together a unified truth to understand the motivations and circumstances that determined her life.
Amazon calls Looking for Strangers a book of both historical insight and imaginative grasp.
Other reviews of the book:
Rachael Dreyer in Library Journal:
“Katz has crafted a poignant memoir of her early years, spent hidden away with a Christian family in Nazi-occupied Belgium, but also of her later search as an adult for the family that kept her safe…This compelling memoir explores the impact of unspeakably traumatic events on familial relationships and the development of identity.”
Barbara L. Estrin, author of The American Love Lyric after Auschwitz and Hiroshima:
“Looking for Strangers is absolutely compelling, both deeply personal and historically important, giving us a glimpse of a small aspect, overlooked in the larger chronicles, of Holocaust trauma and, at the same time, describing a quest that is at once incredibly brave and penetratingly honest. It is one of those rare memoirs, telling a story that is universal in its appeal and profound in its understanding.”
James MacGregor Burns, author of Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom:
“This important mother-and-daughter memoir takes us to Belgium in 1942 and again in 1982 in search of a long-suppressed past. Written in a lucid and unsentimental style, it brings to life the effects of history’s tragic events on the lives of ordinary people. A child hidden from the Nazis in World War II, Dori Katz has shaped her memories into a compelling, unflinching narrative. I highly recommend this short, touching book.”
The program is sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program and Hillel at Trinity. For more information, please contact Lisa Kassow at: firstname.lastname@example.org.