Jew­ish police reg­is­tra­tion form from the Kovno ghet­to, 1942

What a tur­bu­lent life await­ed that baby born in the Kovno ghet­to! Her name was Eli­da, which in Hebrew means non­birth.” Her par­ents, Dr. Jon­ah and Tzi­la Frei­d­man, chose that name in defi­ance of the ban on child­birth that the Nazis imposed on Jews in Lithuan­ian ghet­tos. In this sense, she was a for­bid­den” child.

I was twelve when I first met Eli­da. She came to our fam­i­ly in Haifa from Vil­na (Vil­nius) in the late 1950s. She was a wil­lowy girl, her eyes dark and sad, with an eagle-like nose, promi­nent chin, and wavy black hair. She wore plaid dress­es that cov­ered her arms and knees. Eli­da said lit­tle, and when she spoke, she spoke Yiddish. 

I don’t remem­ber how she was intro­duced to me, what she said, or what the oth­er chil­dren of the fam­i­ly told me about her. We did not yet know about the hor­rors of the Holo­caust. What­ev­er we knew we gar­nered from the whis­pers of adults. These pieces of infor­ma­tion did not add up to a full sto­ry. She came to us from Vil­na with an elder­ly cou­ple, and I under­stood they were her par­ents. But it wasn’t clear to me why she was liv­ing with one of my aunts and not with her parents.

Sev­er­al months after her arrival in Haifa, there was a mys­te­ri­ous com­mo­tion. The adults often whis­pered to each oth­er in Yid­dish. The sub­ject of their con­ver­sa­tion was Eli­da, but none of them told us, the chil­dren, any­thing about what was hap­pen­ing. Con­tribut­ing to the unset­tled atmos­phere was the fact that my uncle Lazar, my mother’s broth­er, came from Amer­i­ca, fol­lowed by his wife, Toibeh. They often spent time with Eli­da and pam­pered her with plen­ty of presents. A few months lat­er, I was informed that Eli­da was going with them to America.

A few days after she left, I saw a news­pa­per spread out on the table at our house. Per­haps my par­ents pur­pose­ly left it there for me to read. The head­line was the sto­ry of a strange alliance between two jews in the kovno ghet­to. The arti­cle was about a pact made between my uncle, Lazar Gold­berg, and his cousin, Dr. Jon­ah Frei­d­man, who swore to adopt each other’s child if only one of them sur­vived the war.

A few days after she left, I saw a news­pa­per spread out on the table at our house. Per­haps my par­ents pur­pose­ly left it there for me to read. The head­line was the sto­ry of a strange alliance between two jews in the kovno ghetto.

This arti­cle sowed the seed of Elida’s sto­ry in me. I was obsessed with her name: Eli­da, the for­bid­den” child. I clung to every bit of infor­ma­tion I gath­ered about her and my uncles, and about the Holo­caust. I chose to study his­to­ry at the uni­ver­si­ty because I want­ed to under­stand what had happened.

Many years after the war, Eli­da and I met again and devel­oped a strong and lov­ing rela­tion­ship. We first recon­nect­ed in June 1973 when she came to Israel as an immi­grant, a mar­ried woman, and a moth­er of three chil­dren. I couldn’t know how her sto­ry would end.

About ten years ago, I set out on a jour­ney of thou­sands of miles to Lithua­nia and the Unit­ed States. Con­duct­ing dozens of meet­ings and inter­views, I became immersed in the mem­o­ries and pain of my fam­i­ly mem­bers. I tracked down doc­u­ments, cer­tifi­cates, court records, draw­ings, and let­ters in Elida’s hand­writ­ing. I read books about the peri­ods and events of her life. I incor­po­rat­ed the infor­ma­tion that I gath­ered into the plot of this book and shaped Elida’s char­ac­ter as I under­stood it. I chose to tell the sto­ry of her life as a bio­graph­i­cal novel.

I under­stand that some of my fam­i­ly mem­bers expe­ri­enced the events dif­fer­ent­ly. I apol­o­gize if I have hurt their feel­ings by telling the sto­ry in a way that diverges from their mem­o­ries and under­stand­ing of the sto­ry. In this book, I tell the sto­ry of Eli­da, my cousin, as I expe­ri­enced and inter­nal­ized it over the years. I hope the book will immor­tal­ize her in the hearts of its readers.

Excerpt­ed from The For­bid­den Daugh­ter. Copy­right © 2021 by Adam & Eve Agen­cies (1995) LTD. Reprint­ed here with per­mis­sion from Harp­er Peren­ni­al, an imprint of Harper­Collins Publishers.

Zipo­ra Klein Jakob holds aca­d­e­m­ic degrees in Lit­er­a­ture and His­to­ry. She was a high school His­to­ry teacher, a ped­a­gog­i­cal coun­selor for uni­ver­si­ty His­to­ry edu­ca­tion, and the man­ag­er of the Educator’s Pro­mo­tion Divi­sion at the Open Uni­ver­si­ty. She also coach­es memoirists.