Like other children of Holocaust survivors, author Ellen Korman Mains grew up with a burden that was never acknowledged. When, as a young woman, she turned to meditation to find a way of making sense of her life, her family felt betrayed and turned against her. Three decades later, on a German train, she felt the compelling call of spirits who had died in the Holocaust. Sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, in January 2005, they demandingly asked, “How can you still believe in basic goodness?” Apparently, Ellen was supposed to have an answer for them. In 2006, she traveled alone to Poland to confront her family’s past and to address this question. As she walked in places where her ancestors had walked for centuries, she was unexpectedly met by a powerful, loving presence. Beyond simply recovering her family’s lost history, Buried Rivers bridges different realms and intimately explores family loyalties and religious boundaries amid the invisible blessings of ancestors. Woven into the memoir is her uncle’s Auschwitz survivor account dictated before his death.
Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust
January 1, 2013
Courtesy of Ellen Korman Mains
- Did you feel drawn into the author’s experiences as a child of Holocaust survivors? Whether or not you share a similar background, did her experiences bring up forgotten experiences of your own? If so, what kind?
- What did you learn about the Holocaust and/or past or present-day Poland that you didn’t already know? What surprised you?
- In what way did her uncle’s survivor account and the author’s conflicted relationship with him contribute to the story? Did he strike you as a narcissistic bully or as a hero?
- How did you react to the author’s interactions with healers, psychics, and with the dead? Did you find these transpersonal experiences believable (or did they detract from the story’s credibility)? Have you had similar experiences?
- What did you feel were the principal themes of the book? Did they weave together well? How did the writing, narrative flow, and transitions of time and place contribute to your reading experience?
- If this book were a physical landscape, what landscape would it be? (Or weather system or kind of music?)
- Did your ideas about what happens after death undergo a change? Or your ideas about your ancestors? Did the book stimulate thoughts or reflections on the deaths of your family members?
- Which part of the book impacted you the most? What emotions did it evoke? Were any parts especially disturbing or inspiring? Did any bring you closer to some part of yourself?
- What do you understand or what did the author convey about the concept of “basic goodness?” In what way do you think basic goodness can co-exist with human behavior or actions such as genocide?
- Does the book teach something valuable about how to hold or move through extreme suffering or grief vs. avoiding it?
- Do you feel the author succeeds in her original motivation for writing the book (i.e. helping the dead)?
- Did the title seem appropriate? What were the “Buried Rivers?”
- In what way was this a “spiritual” journey? Did the author’s view of herself as a Jew, a Buddhist, or as larger than any of these identities undergo a change? If you could interview the author, what would you want to know more about?
- Did the book contribute to your understanding of generational trauma and/or epigenetics? If so, in what way?
- What does the book teach or suggest about tolerance and crossing religious boundaries? Who might benefit most from reading this book?
Jewish literature inspires, enriches, and educates the community.
Help support the Jewish Book Council.