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Eli's Story

A Twentieth-Century Jewish Life

Meri-Jane Rochelson

Autobiography, Holocaust, Jewish Studies

Printed Paper Cased
Published: August 2018
ISBN: 9780814344941
Pages: 342 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 70 black-and-white photos
Published: August 2018
ISBN: 9780814340219
Pages: 342 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 70 black-and-white photos
Published: August 2018
ISBN: 9780814340226

Eli’s Story: A Twentieth-Century Jewish Life is first and foremost a biography. Its subject is Eli G. Rochelson, MD (1907–1984), author Meri-Jane Rochelson’s father. At its core is Eli’s story in his own words, taken from an interview he did with his son, Burt Rochelson, in the mid-1970s. The book tells the story of a man whose life and memory spanned two world wars, several migrations, an educational odyssey, the massive disruption of the Holocaust, and finally, a frustrating yet ultimately successful effort to restore his professional credentials and identity, as well as reestablish family life.

Eli’s Story contains a mostly chronological narration that embeds the story in the context of further research. It begins with Eli’s earliest memories of childhood in Kovno and ends with his death, his legacy, and the author’s own unanswered questions that are as much a part of Eli’s story as his own words. The narrative is illuminated and expanded through Eli’s personal archive of papers, letters, and photographs, as well as research in institutional archives, libraries, and personal interviews. Rochelson covers Eli’s family’s relocation to southern Russia; his education, military service, and first marriage after he returned to Kovno; his and his family’s experiences in the Dachau, Stutthof, and Auschwitz concentration camps—including the deaths of his wife and child; his postwar experience in the Landsberg Displaced Persons (DP) camp, and his immigration to the United States, where he determinedly restored his medical credentials and started a new family. Rochelson recognizes that both the effort of reconstructing events and the reality of having personal accounts that confirm and also differ from each other in detail, make the process of gap-filling itself a kind of fiction—an attempt to shape the incompleteness that is inherent to the story. In the epilogue, the author reminds readers that the stories of lives don’t have clear chronologies. They go off in many directions, and in some ways they never end.

An earlier reviewer said of the book, "Eli’s Story combines the care of a scholar with the care of a daughter." Both scholars and general readers interested in Holocaust narratives will be moved by this monograph.

Meri-Jane Rochelson is professor emerita of English at Florida International University. She is the author of A Jew in the Public Arena: The Career of Israel Zangwill (Wayne State University Press, 2008), editor of Zangwill’s 1892 novel Children of the Ghetto (Wayne State University Press, 1998), and co-editor of Transforming Genres: New Approaches to British Fiction of the 1890s. She has published many articles and presented papers on late Victorian and Anglo-Jewish literature and culture. Her edition of Israel Zangwill’s The Melting-Pot is forthcoming from Broadview Press.

Meri-Jane Rochelson’s nuanced and moving book tells an intimate story of one Jewish family in the twentieth century. Tracing her father’s account of his youth, his medical training in Kaunas, Lithuania, the fate of his dear ones in the Holocaust, his survival, and his experiences in the aftermath of the war, Rochelson offers a new and engaging perspective on modern Jewish history. Eli’s Story helps us rediscover the complexities of Jewish life in Europe and in the United States, illuminating the dynamic contours of a generation and a community and the possibilities as well as limitations of historical reconstruction.

– Natalia Aleksiun, professor of modern Jewish history, Touro College, Graduate School of Jewish Studies, New York

Eli’s Story is a masterful and moving account of the life of a Holocaust survivor from Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania. Weaving together Eli Rochelson’s own memories as he recounted them in interviews with deep research she conducted in archives in Israel and America, Meri-Jane Rochelson has presented a poignant account of her father’s experiences, and she has shed important light on the nature of Jewish society in pre– and post–World War I Lithuania, the Jewish experience of the Holocaust, especially the loss of spouses and children, and on the re-affirmation of Jewish life after the Holocaust.

– Marsha Rozenblit, professor of modern Jewish history, University of Maryland, College Park

Eli’s Story: A Twentieth-Century Jewish Life is an elegant family and Holocaust history, related both in the first person and its European, American, and global contexts. The author offers a compelling perspective on prewar Lithuania, the Second World War, the Holocaust, the environs of Displaced Persons, and the post–World War II United States.

– Michael Berkowitz, professor of modern Jewish history, University College London, author of Jews and Photography in Britain

Eli's Story is also the piercing story of the Jewish community in Kovno and its tragic end, narrated in an impressive and moving way. It is also the story of the fate of the thousands of children in the ghetto. The choking report as laid out by the author reminded me again how I might have shared the end of Eli's son Borya, tattooed in Auschwitz as B-2874, in the gas-chambers of Auschwitz.

– Dr. Shalom Kaplan-Eilati, child survivor of ghetto Kovno and author of Crossing the River

A valued addition to the growing library of Holocaust narratives and an inherently fascinating memoir of 'an interesting life live out in interesting times', "Eli's Story" is unreservedly recommended for both community and academic library 20th Century Biography collections.

– Andrea Kay, Midwest Book Review - Reviewer's Bookwatch