A sequel to the groundbreaking Children of the Holocaust, Where She Came From is a daughter’s memoir of her mother’s family. Drawing on her journalistic training, Helen Epstein demonstrates how documentary research can unearth family history and bridge the historical chasm of the Shoah. This book is at once a memoir, a family history and a social history of Central European Jews of the 19th and 20th centuries. The three generations of women she portrays are dressmakers; the fashion salon, a refuge and a rare institution where women could speak.
"What we so coldly call 'acculturation' is a major theme of Helen Epstein's rich and absorbing new book, Where She Came From. In the guise of a family memoir, she brilliantly evokes Jewish life in the Czech lands... Epstein is unsparing in her examination of the trials of transplantation, and unlike many family biographers, who are in thrall to their characters, she steps out of the frame to observe herself." New York Times Book Review, Ruth Gay
"In Epstein's expert and sensitive hands, truth becomes not only stranger than fiction, but more magnetic, wise and powerful." Gloria Steinem
"Helen Epstein's literary pilgrimage to her past will enrich our quest for memory and understanding. Written with her superb talent of storytelling, her tale is profoundly human." Elie Wiesel
This eloquent memoir by freelance journalist Epstein (Children of the Holocaust) traces her mother's Czech-Jewish family back through three generations. The author's prodigious research, based on interviews and archival material housed in four countries, not only yields compelling portraits of Epstein's female ancestors but also presents a history from the 1800s to WWII of the area now known as the Czech Republic. Combining objective reporting with dramatic detail, Epstein recounts the ebb and flow of anti-Semitism that affected her family. After her depressed great-grandmother killed herself by jumping from a window, the author's orphaned grandmother learned to be self-supporting and became a renowned couturier in prewar Prague. Epstein's mother, Franci, took over the business and prospered until 1941, when Germany imposed martial law. Drawing on an unpublished memoir by Franci, the author describes how her mother survived the camps of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. This rich personal story encompasses historical events and the varied lives of Eastern European women over the last century. Photos not seen by PW.