I’ve been engaged with family stories and the impact the past has on the present for more than two decades now. Four generations are inseparably linked, whether they like it or not.
The wise men of the Hebrew Bible knew this 2,500 years ago. Modern-day psychologists and memory researchers have come to the same conclusion. Genetic research produces increasing evidence that familial past events, even those suppressed or forgotten, imprint themselves on the genes of those living through them and continue to impact the lives of the following generations. That, too, is nothing new. Things can “get under your skin,” or “buried in your bones,” as a German folk saying goes.
During my research I heard any number of family stories. Many of them were tragic and sad; only a few of them had a happy ending. One of the most extraordinary is, without a doubt, that of Anemone Rüger. Nothing in her life suggested that one day Anemone would spend years covering half of the planet in her search for the answer to the riddle of her grandfather – a riddle he had unwittingly passed on to her as a legacy.
Having grown up in a Christian family in a village near the East German city of Chemnitz, she was confined by a wall and barbed wire until 1989 when a peaceful revolution paved the way for the reunification of Germany. Finally the world was wide open to her – and she made use of the opportunity. However, it wasn’t Spanish Mallorca or Italy that attracted her. Instead, she was drawn to Israel.
Anemone Rüger’s story is one with a happy ending. It’s a story of courage: To carry on when life’s obstacles seem insurmountable; to face the abysses of life and world history; to open up to life and people; and to remember. Out of that courage grows reconciliation, even healing – across religious borders, and even beyond four generations.
Anemone Rüger’s story lends weight to the oft-quoted statement attributed to Baal Shem Tov: “Forgetting extends the exile; in remembering lies the key to redemption.”
May this book lead many out of the exile of forgetting into a land of reconciled remembering.