Author takes sons in search of Holocaust

Hiding Places by Daniel Asa Rose


Hiding Places by Daniel Asa Rose

by Seth Rogovoy

Hiding Places by Daniel Asa Rose (Simon and Schuster, New York, 380 pages, $25)

Daniel Asa Rose’s Hiding Places is many books in one. It’s a parenting book -- the story of a father reestablishing a strong bond with his two sons in the wake of a heartbreaking divorce. It’s a travelogue – in this case, retracing the paths along the Belgian alleyways and French countrysides where Rose’s forebears hid from the Nazis during the Shoah. It is a genealogy and detective story, in that Rose – a novelist (Flipping For It , a journalist (New York Times Magazine, Esquire, GQ, Playboy), and the arts editor of The Forward -- digs beneath the surface for the stories of those relatives who survived the Holocaust, and in so doing finds meaning in connecting his and his children’s’ lives to theirs. It’s another in the growing genre of “2G” or “Second Generation” literature, in which we are privy to the unique perspective of children of Holocaust survivors.

But what ties together all these disparate strains running through Hiding Places is an essay of sorts in which Rose examines what it is to be Jewish in America. For this reader, scenes of growing up Jewish in Rowayton, an all-American Connecticut shore town -- known for of all things its lobstermen -- were the equal of those highly-charged, suspenseful ones wherein the author traces down leads about his European forebears with the acuity of a Sherlock Holmes.

(Rose reads from Hiding Places at Wheatleigh in Lenox on Sunday, November 18, at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires’s Jewish Book Month 2001 series. Call 413-442-4360 for pre-registration. )

The signposts of Rose’s American youth will undoubtedly ring true to any member of a minority group, such as when a grade-school teacher refers to the inhabitants of modern-day Israel as “people of the Hebraic persuasion” in order to spare the class’s token Jew the embarrassment of being singled out as one. Or when a friend’s mother asks young Daniel if his family eats “bajels.”

Rose’s trip to Europe with his sons, to “retrace their family’s escape from the Holocaust,” in the words of the book’s subtitle, is not, however, something out of everyday experience. In fact, on the surface, it’s an odd way of bonding with one’s pre-teen sons. Why rub their noses in the Holocaust as a way of strengthening family ties in the wake of divorce? What’s wrong with Disney World?

Rose faces this question head on when he writes, “What could lead an assimilated Jew, recently divorced from a Midwestern WASP, to risk traumatizing his children by taking them to visit the Holocaust?” Rose speculates as to why, but there’s no single answer. The entire book, in a sense, is his testimony, his way of coming to terms with why he took his boys to visit their colorful European kin like Aunt Shasha, the mirror image of his elegant, Orthodox cousins in Kew Gardens, and J.P. Morgan, the rascally, heroic diamond smuggler whose exploits during World War II included bedding the wife of a German officer.

One senses, however, that Rose’s motivation was to give his boys a first-hand connection to the Holocaust that wasn’t merely about piles of corpses, gas chambers and “boo-hoo,” as Morgan called it. Rose’s own childhood connection to the Holocaust centered around his mother’s extreme mood swings, her bouts of depression and her unexplained explosions of tears, which lay upon young Danny as a heavy, guilty burden. For his own sons, however, their reference to the Holocaust would be as much to survivors and survival, heroic figures from their own family whose ingenuity and perseverance would inspire rather than frighten.

One imagines it was also to give young Marshall and Alex a stronger sense of comfort in their Jewish skins, a sense which wouldn’t allow for the sort of knee-jerk reaction to public exposure that Rose so aptly captures in a scene as a young adult in a supermarket, when he becomes panicked upon hearing one customer call loudly to another, “Did you get the matzo?”

“`Shhh!’ was my automatic reaction,” writes Rose. “Clicking into alert mode, I glanced around to see who else might have overheard.

“I relaxed, coming to my sense. Christ, I thought, I’m still in hiding. Half a century after the Holocaust, I am still in hiding.”

If Rose gave anything to Alex and Marshall by taking them to visit J.P. Morgan in Belgium, it was an inoculation against the need for any more hiding places. And for readers, Hiding Places serves the same purpose.

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on November 18, 2001. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2001. All rights reserved.]

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