And You Shall Tell Your Children
A Chronicle of Survival
Lessons of Life for Today
By Dr. Ida Akerman-Tieder
Devora Publishing, 2011, 285 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - April 20, 2011
As others before her, Dr. Akerman-Tieder wrote her book to keep her family's story alive as well as the stories of the other people who were murdered by the Nazis. Yet her tale is different in significant ways. Dr. Akerman-Tieder is a poet with three published poetry collections and a pediatrician and psychoanalyst. The first draft of this volume was dictated to friends and family in a conversational manner and then edited as a book. She uses her psychoanalytic skills when she reports and comments on her past and what she saw and heard, giving her report an interesting and informative depth. It turns out to be not only history, but "lessons of life for today." It is a book for "those today who have lost their way in life, the disoriented refugee, the victim of troubles in the family." She shows "plenty of examples of hurtful behavior to avoid." As a result of her conversational style and her poetical and psychoanalytical skills, readers feel that a person with good communication skills and deep insights is talking to them.
It is interesting to read how Dr. Akerman-Tieder observed traditional Jewish practices, such as keeping kosher and the Shabbat, even though this caused her hardships, sometimes she had hardly anything to eat – "isn't that a supreme example of human fortitude?" She reveals how her aunt was denounced by her maid to the Nazis for throwing a non-kosher egg in the dustbin. She describes how her grandmother followed her father and grandfather to the front line during the First World War when the two men were soldiers to prepare kosher food for them. She writes that "The heart, the backbone of our existence was provided by the Jewish holidays, which filled it with delight. Shabbat was extraordinary, I can hardly describe it." But she does. When her father put on his tefillin (phylacteries) as many Jews do as part of the morning prayer service, people thought he had a radio transmitter and he was almost shot.
She divulges her unique relationship with her father and how, as a result, "The only person with whom I have been able to truly establish a trusting professional relationship had something of my father about him." She discloses how bothered she was to see her father crouch down to hide from a Nazi. Education was always important for her. "I am increasingly of the opinion that Jewish education is one of the most powerful pedagogical instruments for building up such a resistance (against assimilation), and my entire story – this story of continual persecutions – eventually proved to be positive in this respect."
She writes about the psychological effects of persecution. Little by little "you end up seeing yourself with his (the persecutor's) eyes and judging yourself according to his criteria. And little by little you destroy yourself." This is a defensive reaction, "which sooner or later proves to be ineffective in real life and leads to self-hatred." What saved the Jewish people from becoming psychotic from their long history of persecutions is that they ceaselessly cultivated their memory of the best of their history and retained the conviction that it would be restored.
She discusses other psychological phenomenon such as during times of fear or concern the "slightest thing made us laugh. When grandfather burped…this gave rise to endless bursts of uncontrollable laughter." She reveals how she, her brother, and her sister felt profound feelings of guilt when both of their parents were taken by the Nazis in September 1942 and murdered, although there was no basis for the children's guilt, how they overcame this feeling, and how it had a positive effect on how she related to her son. She highlights the importance of listening to others with many examples and states that this induced her to become a psychoanalyst, listen to patients, and help them.
These are some of the many stories and ideas that Dr. Ida Akerman-Tieder chronicles as "lessons of life for today."