For fifty-eight years, I've been harboring within me an epic family story, lying dormant beneath the surface and threatening to eat me up alive: My mother and maternal grandparents were Carpathian Mountain People who, for four years, lived in a snake pit, often saw dead people, and worked for murderers. What is even more absurd is that the world believed their community was a cultural center.

No, they weren't criminals, just honorable, valuable, hard-working people, with normal human frailties. Their "crime" was being Jewish in Czechoslovakia in 1941, for which Hitler's Third Reich incarcerated them in the Terezín concentration camp. Only about 75,000 people survived the Nazi camps; of these, about 3,200 adults and 150 children  survived Terezín. Miraculously, three of them were my mother and her parents. I am alive because my grandfather made custom boots for the SS, the elite Nazi officers.

I'm now one of about half a million children of Holocaust survivors alive today, who grew up in the shadows of their family's trauma. Many of us second generation (2G) survivors are imbued with “the unbearable lightness of being” (the title of a book by Milan Kundera, set in the Czech Republic), cursed and blessed at the same time, in a perpetual state of mourning for that which we have never known. The truth is, we're all partially meshugener (crazy)! We were raised differently than other children, and like our survivor parents, we carry emotional baggage from the Holocaust.

I have always been a Holocaust junkie, compulsively devouring wartime stories with morbid fascination. As a child, I would relish watching my grandmother cook and bake while telling me her family’s experiences. Her face and emotional expression would become a kaleidoscope of laughter, animation, tears, and despair. Since I was a young artist, I loved how my grandmother figuratively painted for me the picture of her amazing history, in intricate detail. I was absolutely riveted; I couldn’t get enough. I knew this information was precious. It was part of who I was and who I would become.

My story includes the following ingredients: what led to the Holocaust, what life was like in Terezín, how survivors and their offspring were personally affected, and what this means to future generations. Of course, the story wouldn't be complete without some personal family melodrama, expressed in poems, recipes, travel notes, and essays.

Now, eighty years after the rise of Hitler, the world is losing its Holocaust survivors. As the survivors are dying off, we must never forget this shocking chapter in world history. Second generation survivors are the only ones left to bear witness for those who can no longer speak for themselves. I feel it is beshert (meant to be, destined) that I try to document, understand, and memorialize my family’s past. The experience has been life-affirming. So, I give you the story of my mother and her family, my own real life heroes and heroines, of which I am so proud. May their history never be forgotten, and may the world never know another Hitler.

Sugar Loaf, NY (OCLT): Orange County Land Trust will sponsor poetry workshops this summer outdoors at two of their protected nature preserves, taught by renowned Hudson Valley poet Janet Hamill.
A Poet’s View of Nature is a generative workshop, occurring on two occasions.  The first workshop will take place at Moonbeams Preserve and the second at Fuller Mountain.  The Moonbeams workshop will be held Saturday, July 20 and the Fuller Mountain workshop will take place on Saturday, Aug. 10. Both will meet from 10 am – 12 pm. Participants can register for one or both workshops. Admittance is $20 per workshop and the maximum number of participants per workshop will be limited to ten.
In each workshop, participants will have an opportunity to generate their own nature poem.  Each workshop will feature the reading of a selection of well-known English-language nature poets, including Wordsworth, Longfellow, Thoreau and Dickinson. Participants will also be introduced to the two most common forms of Japanese nature poetry, the haiku and tanka.  After an initial introduction to “nature poetry,” participants will be asked to find an object in the immediate environment that appeals to them.  A series of preliminary exercises revolving around the object will be followed by the participants writing of their own poem about the natural object.  At the conclusion of the workshop, everyone will have an opportunity to read what they have written. 
Necessary materials are paper, something to write with, and a playful imagination. As this workshop takes place outdoors, participants are encouraged to bring a chair, blanket or pillow.
Janet Hamill is the author five books of poetry, and her first full collection of short fiction, Tales from the Eternal Café, is forthcoming this fall from Three Rooms Press.  She has recorded two CDs of spoken word and music with the bands Moving Star and Lost Ceilings.  Her work has been nominated for the William Carlos Williams Prize and the Pushcart Prize.  She serves as an artist advisor at the Seligmann Center for the Arts in Sugar Loaf and is presently enrolled as an MFA candidate in Poetry at New England College in Henniker, NH.  Janet moved to the Hudson Valley in the mid-nineties after three decades in NYC.  She has read and presented workshops throughout the Hudson Valley, NYC, Boston, Santa Fe, Denver, Seattle, England and Ireland.
For more information and to register, please contact Orange County Land Trust at (845) 469-0951, x12 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Orange County Land Trust is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of OrangeCounty’s natural, open spaces and working farmland.  Since 1993, the Land Trust has helped preserve nearly 4,700 acres of land in communities throughout Orange County. For more information on volunteer opportunities and ways of giving, please visit http://www.oclt.org/ or call (845) 343-0840, x14. Become a fan of the Land Trust on Facebook for news and upcoming events.
Photo Caption: Poet Janet Hamill will lead a poetry workshop A Poet’s View of Nature outdoors this summer on Orange County Land Trust protected lands.