Surviving the Survivors: A Memoir by Ruth Klein

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Surviving the Survivors: A Memoir is a heart-wrenching life story that will touch readers in deep, emotional ways. Ruth Klein is a second-generation survivor of the Holocaust, and she candidly shares the story of her turbulent childhood in a brutally honest way. Ruth was born in a displaced persons camp in Europe, and the family emigrated to the United States when Ruth was a toddler. A number of factors affected the Klein family and made it far more challenging for the household members to integrate themselves not only into American life but also into a cohesive and loving family. Things such as the psychological trauma that haunted Ruth’s parents because of the Holocaust, the post-war treatment of Jewish refugees, the difficult transition to a new country that included poor living conditions and social rejection, and their father’s struggles with mental health problems.

Klein’s childhood was full of emotional upheavals. Both Ruth and her sister suffered from physical abuse regularly doled out by their father. However, Ruth bore the brunt of the horrific treatment. Adding to Ruth’s angst, at a young age, she was put in the untenable position of taking on the parental responsibilities of not only caring for her younger twin siblings but also doing all of the household chores. Although Ruth’s parents were financially strapped, they purchased a piano for Ruth and her sister. Ruth enjoyed piano lessons, and music became a catalyst for helping her cope with arduous circumstances.

Klein’s memoir is an eye-opener about the life of a second-generation survivor of the Holocaust. The revealing and enlightening memoir tells a story about love, loss, grief, survival, and perseverance in the face of adversity. Klein tells a compelling and powerful story that shows the different ways horrible atrocities can affect people, the effects on others when a family member suffers from mental illness, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of indefensible circumstances.

The myriad black-and-white family photographs contribute to the overall appeal of this historical account of Klein’s childhood, and the photos do not overpower the text but rather add more context for the reader. The book’s chapter titles condense the heart of each chapter to a few key words. Klein has written a poignant, riveting, visceral, and unforgettable memoir about survivors of the Holocaust and its impact not only on the people who experienced the horrors of the Nazi regime but also on how subsequent generations struggled to cope with the aftereffects.