Reading Kiss the Red Stairs

I’ve been reading Kiss the Red Stairs and have mixed feelings about it. It’s very well-written, poignant and passionate. The author, Marsha Lederman, is a well-known Canadian journalist so I'd expected her research would be well-presented. With this memoir, she does a great job of connecting her life with her parents’ Holocaust memories. I also appreciate how she connects her losses to Indigenous and Black traumas.

I wasn’t quite as engaged with the trauma of her dysfunctional marriage. Perhaps I don’t see marriage as such an important part of selfhood. I'm someone who’s chosen not to wear my wedding ring, for complicated reasons, so her sadness about her ring-less fingers didn’t touch me at all. 

Like her, I also grew up without grandparents.  Perhaps I'm jealous about how much support she received as she explored her tragic family history. There’s no national day to remember the liquidating of the kulaks. No national memorial for the victims of the 1937/38 purges. My grandmother, dead of typhus in Yaya, Siberia has no gravestone. Neither does my baby uncle, dead on a boxcar during the long trip up to Yaya. Or my other uncle, dead while building the White Sea Canal. Numerous great uncles, aunts, shipped away to be forced labourers and never heard from again.  No recognition of their spent lives … not in Stalin's world. No reconciliation now in Putin's world.

As the daughter of a German father (a pilot for the Nazis) and a German-Russian mother, I grew up here in Canada feeling shame and embarrassment.  I grew up feeling that I was the daughter of bad people. Reading this memoir does nothing to alleviate that shame. I will never be good enough. I can’t erase who I am or who my parents were. 

I appreciated her expressions of gratitude ... something I'm also overwhelmed with.  I find reasons for it here in this democracy called Canada, in diverse friends and in rustic nature. 

One thing I have learned ... evil is not out there. Evil stares back at me in my own reflection. This knowledge keeps me humble. No righteous indignation in my life. 

I’m sure it was a cathartic experience for Lederman to research and write this book. And her honesty and vulnerability lends it power. But there was one more thing I was waiting for in this memoir … forgiveness.  She's a 2G —second generation Holocaust survivor—and I will always be guilty — the second generation perpetrator.  This is my inheritance and I must accept that with the help of Reinhold Niebuhr's 1932/3 written serenity prayer.


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