Lost and Found, A Memoir

Judith has completed this memoir about belonging and identity.

Lost and Found

A Memoir by Judith Kalman

“In 2015 opportunity seized me by the throat. Would I testify at the Nazi war crimes trial of Oskar Gröning in Lüneburg, Germany? A sense of urgency overtook me, although a trial such as this had been seventy years in the making. I also shrank from the prospect. My parents had lost their large families in the Nazi Holocaust, so I had always deliberately avoided Germany in my travels. Spending twelve days engulfed by the bludgeoning sounds I’d come to associate with the German language was but a small part of my dread.”

What was a secular, non-practising Jew who had lived most of her life outside the Jewish community doing among a group of Holocaust survivors many of whom had built an identity and mission out of Holocaust remembrance? My sister and I had been asked to testify on the basis of a direct family relation, a child by my father’s first marriage, who had lost her life in Auschwitz. 

I belonged and didn’t belong in that courtroom much as I had belonged and hadn’t belonged among my all-gentile classmates in an east-end Montreal public school, and among the young west-end Jews I mixed with at religious school on weekends. In Lost and Found, I explore how, from the time of my childhood, my parents’ tragic past confounded not only my sense of who I wanted to be, but my affiliations. Broken friendships, missed expectations, difficult family relationships, and a problematic marriage were all forged in the heritage of loss.

“Testifying in a German court on my half-sister’s behalf, amplified by the microphones of journalists inquiring about the lost Hungarian child and the family who had perished with her, had an unforeseen effect. In finding my voice, my ears opened. Not only did the German language sound mellifluous; I was hungry to hear what the Germans were saying.”

What qualifies as restitution for lives, years, and gratifications that are stolen or relinquished out of guilt? In the moments mapped in this memoir, I discover that for me restitution is a state of mind that allows me to accept what was and is on offer, understanding the magnitude of what can never be compensated. Lost and Found charts a small life struggling to come out from under a legacy of loss.