Ellen Cassedy’s memoir We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust charts her journey to her family’s past and her own reckoning with what she finds. Full disclosure: As the author of Even in Darkness, which tells the story of my German family’s unusual Holocaust survival, I was already a fan of Cassedy’s revelations about the writing process when family history is at the core of the story. And I knew that We are Here was the 2013 winner of the Grub Street National Book Prize, among other awards.
So I was predisposed to find her book interesting, though her family’s Lithuanian past and her level of involvement with Judaism departed markedly from my own experiences. We Are Here more than met my expectations. I was engaged by the detective work Ellen did to discover the family secrets which she refused to accept as obstacles, and interested as a linguist in her pursuit of learning Yiddish, a process that framed the narrative of this memoir. Most of all, I was moved by Cassedy's
struggle to reconcile her need to learn the truth of her family’s history with her resolve to honor their dignity and their memories. This struggle lies at the crux of many of our efforts to tell our family stories through the refiner’s fire of resonant truth allied with respect for the complex traumatic history of the Holocaust.
I was most appreciative of her arrival at a decision that she could not, should not, judge the choices made by those who faced incalculable danger and suffering. Ellen Cassedy’s thoughtful work also reminds that the perspective, curiosity, and needs of second and third generation family members of Holocaust victims and survivors -to know and understand their history- may depart significantly from those closer to that horror-filled time.