Daugh­ter of His­to­ry: Traces of an Immi­grant Girlhood

September 1, 2021

A pho­to­graph with faint writ­ing on the back, a trav­el­ing chess set, a sil­ver pin. Not­ed schol­ar and author Susan Rubin Suleiman uses such every­day objects and the mem­o­ries they evoke to tell the sto­ry of her ear­ly life as a post­war refugee and Amer­i­can immigrant.

Hav­ing evad­ed depor­ta­tion to Auschwitz, but forced to flee Com­mu­nist rule in Hun­gary, Susan’s fam­i­ly set­tled in Chica­go, where she enjoyed a large­ly hap­py child­hood. As a teenag­er in the 1950s, she felt a strong deter­mi­na­tion to become 100% Amer­i­can.” But a post-col­lege year in Paris led her to appre­ci­ate how her Euro­pean Jew­ish roots and Amer­i­can­ness” can coexist.

In this com­ing-of-age sto­ry that probes the inter­gen­er­a­tional com­plex­i­ties of Jew­ish immi­grant fam­i­lies and the inevitabil­i­ty of loss, Susan looks to her own life as an exam­ple of how his­tor­i­cal events shape our pri­vate lives. At once an intel­lec­tu­al auto­bi­og­ra­phy and a reflec­tion on the nature of mem­o­ry, iden­ti­ty, and home, Daugh­ter of His­to­ry invites us to con­sid­er how the objects that under­pin our lives become gate­ways to our past.

Discussion Questions

We are in a moment of unearthing his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tive trau­ma. Holo­caust child sur­vivors who were ignored and silenced for many years are now shar­ing what their lives were like before the Ger­man inva­sion of their coun­ty, what they expe­ri­enced under the Ger­man occu­pa­tion in World War II, and how they adapt­ed after lib­er­a­tion. Susan Rubin Suleiman was a six-year-old in Budapest when Ger­many invad­ed Hun­gary. After escap­ing com­mu­nist Hun­gary and even­tu­al­ly set­tling in the Unit­ed States, Suleiman’s moth­er forced her to sup­press her mem­o­ries of hid­ing as a non-Jew. That’s behind us,” she said, for­get about that.”

Suleiman’s can­did mem­oir of becom­ing Amer­i­can in the 1950s reflects the lives of many of the hid­den child sur­vivors of the Holo­caust. In 1984, Suleiman expe­ri­enced a trans­for­ma­tive event when she took her two sons to Budapest. Her iden­ti­ty shift­ed from an Amer­i­can woman to a hid­den child of the Holo­caust, and her title as a promi­nent fem­i­nist pro­fes­sor evolved into a schol­ar of war and mem­o­ry.” Suleiman’s per­son­al reflec­tions in A Daugh­ter of His­to­ry will empow­er oth­er chil­dren to unlock their repressed mem­o­ries and aim for growth. Read­ers will also be inspired to search for their own cre­ative out­lets to over­come a trau­mat­ic past, and to find com­mu­ni­ty spaces.