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I Want You to Know We're Still Here Summary and Reviews

I Want You to Know We're Still Here

A Post-Holocaust Memoir

by Esther Safran Foer

I Want You to Know We're Still Here by Esther Safran Foer X
I Want You to Know We're Still Here by Esther Safran Foer
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About this book

Book Summary

A woman unearths family secrets and gives voice to things unspoken in this poignant memoir that traces her parents' escape from the Holocaust.

Esther Safran Foer grew up in a home where the past was too terrible to speak of. The child of parents who were each the sole survivors of their respective families, for Esther the Holocaust loomed in the backdrop of daily life, felt but never discussed. The result was a childhood marked by painful silences and continued tragedy. Even as she built a successful career, married, and raised three children, Esther always felt herself searching.

So when Esther's mother casually mentions an astonishing revelation--that her father had a previous wife and daughter, both killed in the Holocaust--Esther resolves to find out who they were, and to learn how her father survived. Armed with only a black-and-white photo and hand-drawn map, she travels to Ukraine, determined to find the shtetl where her father hid during the war. What she finds not only reshapes her identity but gives her the opportunity to properly mourn.

I Want You to Know We're Still Here is the riveting and deeply moving story not only of Esther's journey but of four generations living in the shadow of the Holocaust. They are four generations of survivors, storytellers, and memory keepers, determined not just to keep the past alive but to imbue the present with life and more life.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A family's mysteries inspire a search into a dark past...A vivid testimony to the power of memory." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"This narrative serves as something of a companion piece to Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, which fictionalized aspects of the Foer family history. Foer's engrossing, well-researched family history will resonate with those curious about their own roots." - Publishers Weekly

"[A]t once beautiful and heart-rending, and sheds light on what happened after the war—an often overlooked aspect of the Holocaust experience. Foer explores her family with context and detail. Her story will interest readers of historical and personal narratives, especially memoirs and genealogy." - Library Journal

"Esther Safran Foer is a natural storyteller—and what a story she has to tell! A tribute to human resilience, her family saga is full of heart and the breath of life. It is a perfect tonic for our cynical times. I loved it." - Kati Marton, author of The Great Escape

"Stirring and inspiring, this remarkable book is a labor of love and hope. Esther Safran Foer goes on a brave journey abroad and into the past in search of unsettling family secrets buried in the horrible darkness created by Nazism. Her odyssey is both harrowing and heroic. When she returns, she can never see things in the same way, and neither can we. This book is a little triumph over fascism." - Congressman Jamie Raskin

"I Want You to Know We're Still Here is a beautiful exploration of collective memory and Jewish history, of Esther Safran Foer's personal quest to find any trace of a murdered sister, to track down the family who saved her father, and to ensure that the names from her family's past live on." - Nathan Englander, author of kaddish.com

"Esther Safran Foer has written an honest, painful, and ultimately uplifting story of life after tragedy. This book is, above all else, the redemption song of her family and of her people. It should be read by everyone." - Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic

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Reader Reviews

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Erica M. (Chicago, IL)

Remembering the past, assuring the future
"I Want You to Know We're Still Here" by Ester Safran Foer was a well-written love note from a mother to her children. The story felt like a fairy tale retelling, where you recognize the story in bits and pieces, but the names have changed and the details are different. I, admittedly, read this book because of Jonathan Safran Foer's books, but you can see from Ester's writing where her son got his strength for words. However, Ester truly has her own voice. Ester's way of formatting a story is like that of an earnest parent after the child has had its own baby and is now asking for advice. She admits that she doesn't have all the answers, that a lot of it she had to assume or research herself. She reminds us that while the survivors of the Holocaust might be leaving this earthly planet, there is still an echo or shadow of what they had to overcome and what was done. The book reads as motherly plea to remember to do our homework because as life goes on she wants to trust someone to remember the echo and the shadows because they were here, and still are as long as their stories are told.

Susan B. (Rutledge, MO)

heart-rending and powerful
I found this post-Holocaust memoir a challenging but fulfilling read. The subject matter is often intense and horrifying, yet the book also has some heart-lifting and even humorous moments. I would have loved a list of names and places and their relation to the author and one another - I wasn't always able to keep them all straight - and a few stories and facts were repeated unnecessarily, but overall I found this a compelling and thought-provoking book I'm glad to have read.

Martha S. (Mentor, OH)

I Want You to Know We're Still Here
This story tugs at my heart. I was reading this book during the Thanksgiving holiday and it truly struck me at how blessed I am. My relatives did not go through the tragedies the author's family and extended family experienced during WW II. The author worked to uncover her family's background and their lives and deaths before, during and after WW II. At the beginning of the book, the family names were hard for me to remember and connect. As I read on, I realized the names were not as important (to me) as the story telling. The author struggled to discover where people lived, who were able to continue to live and who survived the war. She seemed to be at peace with her family story as the book ends, realizing she uncovered every possible thread in her search. This was a very personal story and maybe not for everyone; it does show the determination to live on despite a life of utter hardships.

Marguerite K. (Vernon, CT)

In the end, good does win
'I Want You to Know We're Still Here' cannot be read easily or quickly. It is difficult to picture having to do painstaking research with scant leads to find your family's past when I have always known my own.

To me this is a story of determination and unwillingness to give up, both of a protagonist with the ability to track down leads and follow up clues with very little information and of people who fought to stay alive despite being caught up in the evils of a terrible time. It is heartening to read how willing people not closely related or not related at all were to help. Despite the horrors of the Holocaust, the goodness of many people is what stayed with me when I finished reading. I couldn't help thinking of Pandora's Box; if opening it unleashed the evils then that goodness and determination to tell the story is the hope that emerged.

This memoir left me optimistic about people and their ability to overcome and prosper, while remembering and memorializing the past.

Becky S. (Springfield, MO)

Not just another book about the Holocaust
I have read so many world war 2 books and novels about the holocaust... one of my favorite genres, but this book was different from the rest in that it focused more on the post war effects of the Jews and how they were treated once they were liberated from the camps. Esther Safran tells her story, her families story, in a beautiful memoir which is full of sad truths and secrets, but also love and joy . I enjoyed this short read very much and it made me think of things I hadn't thought of before .. the post war effects of the Jews and how it effected them mentally.. not everyone lived happily ever after . Also, it made my think of my own families stories and how we hear things and pass stories down. Are our memories facts? Or do we start to believe things happened because we have heard them so much? I think this book is going to be a success when it hits the market . I also am compelled to read Everything is Illuminated by Esthers son, Jonathan Foer.. a fiction novel based on their family history. Another book to add to my queue. Thanks for the opportunity to read this memoir !

Janet

History is Memory; Memory is History
Like many other 12-year-old girls, I read The Diary of Anne Frank. I was deeply moved and saddened by the book, but I had no idea the magnitude of the terrible, horrific price paid by 6 million Jews with their lives during World War II. I never wondered what happened to the remaining Jews after their liberation from the Death Camps. I didn’t even think that there might be other Jews who were not in the camps, but had been displaced by the war as their villages had been razed and they had no place to go as entire towns were obliterated, first by the Jews and then by the Polish army.
I Want You to Know We’re Still Here opened my eyes to what happened to thousands of the Jews who were left after the war had ravaged their lives. Ester Safran Foer says that history is memory and memory is history. Collectively and individually these remaining Jews had no history, and many had no memory as entire generations of families were wiped out.
Foer set about researching her history so that she could recreate memories of those long gone. Her hunt takes her to Ukraine. She finds some of the answers to her past, but not all. Her book is a bittersweet memoir of what life was like for Jews in post-World War II America and Ukraine. The book is a well-blended mix of history and memory as Foer researches factual bases for her family and memory garnered from some distant relatives who recount, sometimes repeatedly, stories of the ones that were killed by the Nazis. These memories recalled are often small vignettes of daily life Jews led before the war.
This book is a riveting mixture of Foer’s feelings about her findings and her actual findings. I usually I find non-fiction works to be dull, drawn out and ultimately boring. I found it impossible to put down this book as I realized that the post-World War II for some Jews was as confusing and troubled as their lives before the terrible annihilation of the 6 million Jews and other ethnic groups during World War II. This book is an excellent read.

...28 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Esther Safran Foer

Esther Safran Foer was the CEO of Sixth & I, a center for arts, ideas, and religion. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband Bert. They are the parents of Franklin, Jonathan, and Joshua, and the grandparents of six.

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