“My addiction was an invitation to a path of discovery.”
– Terry Flynn, spiritual teacher and addiction counsellor.
Terry Flynn, my beloved mentor who died in December, 2011, wrote these words on a blackboard at the Toronto rehab where I spent six weeks in the spring of 2009. They have inspired and given me hope during five years of recovery. Most important, they set me on an uplifting, though often bumpy path of discovery that I am sharing here.
This multi-media project is a departure from my usual work as a food sleuth. It is a deeply personal story that weaves together three main threads: my relationship with my mother; her Holocaust history; and my cross-addiction to sleeping pills and alcohol. It is a tale of horror, loss, sadness, secrets, sleeplessness and finally redemption.
My mum, age 90
My mother Ruth Schachter (née Nisse) rarely, if ever, spoke about the Nazi genocide that annihilated 6 million Jews, including her entire extended family, during World War II. I knew that she was 16 when her older sister Mira suddenly dropped dead at age 19 in September, 1939. I knew that, because of this, my granny Agnes gave up resisting her husband Ronya’s urging to leave Latvia – a place he rightly deemed “a mousetrap.” I knew that the four Nisses – mum, her younger sister Dita and their parents Ronya and Agnes – began a trek to North America a month later meticulously planned by my oil tycoon grandfather. A trek that would take 18 months. A trek that wound up in Montreal, Canada.
I grew up in North London, England, where my dad Mel Schachter, a doctor and medical researcher, found work in his field exploring substances called kinins and teaching university students physiology. In the 1950s, we crossed the Atlantic by ocean liner to visit both sets of grandparents in Montreal for several summers. During these visits, I heard snippets of the Holocaust story. How the rest of mum’s family left behind in Riga had disappeared. How my granny, a doctor, had fallen into a deep depression soon after arriving in Canada.
But these were just jigsaw pieces hanging in the air. The big picture was blurred and clouded in mystery. Growing up, I learned not to ask questions. I did not want to cause pain for my serene, stoic, beautiful and brainy mum. I don’t know how or why I knew this. This subject was an unspoken taboo. I felt the Holocaust had little to do with me.
I got on with my life, had children of my own and embarked on a whirlwind career as a food writer living in Toronto. There were inklings of curiosity about my lack of roots. I asked my mother. She wrote several letters and a beautiful 6-page family history. She suggested I watch the stunning film “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” and that I read the books “Badenheim 1939” and “Walking Since Daybreak.”
Then my life came crashing down. The anxiety and insomnia I had suffered all my life became unbearable in middle age. After 30+ years of episodic use, sleeping pills and alcohol became a deadly combo. I nearly died from the addiction. Rehab, 12-step meetings and the help of a therapist who knows about transgenerational trauma led to my path of discovery.
I bought books and sleuthed the ‘Net for info on the Holocaust. I read about the horrific Rumbula Massacre in which Riga’s Jews were marched to a forest in the dead of winter, shot and dumped into mass graves. I asked my mum to tell her story. She did. The ghosts of her murdered family came out of the fog and into focus. I realized all this had everything to do with me.
There was a new closeness and peace between me and mum. I finally felt compassion for her. I understood she has survivor guilt, that hers is an unspoken, unresolved grief. I realized that this brilliant woman – a bookworm and culture vulture who is fluent in five languages and once explained cloning to my son-in-law – is an amazing person. I realized why it had been difficult for us to bond until now.
Best of all, I began to heal.
Last, ever the food sleuth, I urge you try the recipe for Linzertorte: a delicious European dessert that waits for me, splendid and freshly baked, whenever I visit my dear, courageous mum at her garden flat in Primrose Hill. And did I mention that she imparted to me a love of food and cooking?
In Memoriam: My mum died peacefully on April 21, 2018, at the age of 95.
Part 1: Radio Documentary with Accompanying Photo Gallery (37:10)
|Creator: Marion Kane, Producer: Ashley Walters
To watch, click on the play button ( ) in the player above.
Watch full screen by clicking icon with four arrows, bottom right.
*Watch the following video to continue the story.
Part 2: I Tell My Story in My Toronto Kitchen (8:56) - Posted on Feb. 4, 2014
To listen, click on the play button ( ) in the podcast players below.
Listen to the podcast with my late childhood nanny Evelyn Smail (nee Rupert) at her seniors’ home in Morrisburg.
Read the blog post: Nanny and Child Reunion: My Dear Evelyn and I Find Each Other After 50 Years
Mark Sorensen was the Canadian Pacific Railroad's man in the Scandinavian
and Baltic States as the Nazi genocide approached in the late 1930s.
To listen, click on the play button ( ) in the podcast player below.
Originally aired on CBC Radio 1 on Sunday, May 25th, 2015
- “Badenheim 1939” by Aharon Appelfeld
- “Children of the Holocaust” by Helen Epstein
- “The Final Solution in Riga” by Andrei Angrick and Peter Klein
- “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Maté
- “In This Dark House” by Louise Kehoe
- “I Survived Rumbuli” by Frida Michelson
- “The Murder of the Jews in Latvia” by Bernhard Press
- “The Net of Dreams” by Julie Salamon
- “None is too Many” by Irving Abella and Harold Troper
- “Second Generation Voices” by Alan L. Berger and Naomi Berger
- “Walking Since Daybreak” by Modris Eksteins
- “The War After” by Anne Karpf
- “Transmission of Holocaust Trauma” by Natan P.F. Kellermann
- Yad Vashem Database of Holocaust Victims
- “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” directed by Vittorio de Sica
- Revisiting a Mother’s Day Tribute to my Mum as She Approaches her 91st Birthday
- My Energizer Bunny Mum is Bouncing Back and Baking Her Famous Linzertorte to Boot
- My Father’s Day Ode to My Late Dad Mel Schachter — a Complicated, Roly-Poly Man
To download/print a copy of the above, click on the image, then select File > Print or Save As...
Marion Kane can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artwork by Barbara Rowlandson