A Granddaughter’s Holocaust Quest

Book Review

Bashert is the engrossing story of Andrea Simon’s search for her roots, her re-engagement with her grandmother Masha, who journeyed from Volchin to Brooklyn, to Woodridge, to Israel, to Berlin and back. It is the story of the past that once was and never again will be — Volchin, a Jewish town whose population was decimated....Simon’s writing makes us care, care about her, her grandmother, her town and her self-discovery. Pilgrimage is the most ancient of religious rituals, a journey forth that is also a journey into self and Bashert is an admirable account of Simon’s pilgrimage. We learn as she learns, we engage, we remember, we cry out and we even at times laugh. Perhaps the first — or at least one of the first — of a new genre of Holocaust writing that will become more familiar and more urgent as the survivors are no longer with us and their descendants are forced to uncover from history what they once could encounter directly from memory.”
— Michael Berenbaum,
Director, Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, California; former President of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation

Book Excerpt
(From author’s introductory note.)

“It’s safe to say this book contains the most extensive information to date on the Brona Gora and Volchin massacres....While I have been devoted to uncovering this material and filling a significant gap in Holocaust literature, there was no way to get the exact facts. For a perfectionist such as myself, this was difficult to accept. Given all these concerns, it is my sincerest wish that I have done justice to those whose stories needed to be told. For in the end, that is all that matters.”
—Andrea Simon

Book Review

"Makes a significant contribution to our understanding and perception of the Holocaust in eastern Poland (Belarus).... Balances impressions of life before and during the Holocaust in eastern Poland with other fragments of family life in the U.S. and other parts of the world from roughly 1915 to the present day. This has the welcome effect of demonstrating the quality, beauty and despair of those lives that were destroyed.... The very personal approach and the attempt to reconstruct fragments of the quality of life ... give it a special and enduring quality."
—Martin Dean, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Book Excerpt
(From interviews conducted by author in 1978.)

    “Such a village,” my grandmother Masha croons about her birthplace, Volchin, “a place like no other — a real paradise.”

    “But Gram,” I protest as I always did as a child, eager to hear every morsel about her early life, “then why did you leave?”

    “What do you mean? Everybody wanted to run away from Europe. They killed the Jews. Pogroms and pogroms and pogroms on the Jews. Oy, how we suffered.”

    “You left family there?”

    “Yes, my brother Isar and his wife and daughters.”

    “Why didn’t they leave?”

    “Why? Why, there was always a reason. We all sent him money, many times. We made out the papers. He used the money for this reason and that reason, for school, for another thing.”

    “And what happened to them?”

    “Killed like every other Jew.”

Book Review

“Bashert: A Granddaughter’s Holocaust Quest delivers something much more than a story about the author’s kin. It carries a message that transcends all cultures, races and generations....Ms. Simon’s memoir whispers a warning to all who read it: do not let the past become the future.”
—Melanie McMillan, The Litchfield County Times

Prologue from Bashert

July 1997
My grandmother’s spirit haunts me still. “Mamaleh, it’s not over,” she calls from her grave. Her croaky voice, heavily layered by cigarettes, bitterness, and the fractured intermingling of Yiddish, Polish, Russian, Hebrew, and English, reaches through my skin, pinching my heart. “Bless your pupik [navel],” she bellows in an imitation of herself, “there’s more work to do.”

I know she’s right, because even now, shortly after my trip to Poland, Belarus, and Russia, I learn more about my lost family. I’m happy — thrilled — to make new contacts, to discover what seem like facts. But I also know that these facts are as elusive as the scattered ashes of my massacred relatives — ashes that lined village ditches, ashes that clung to crematoria walls, ashes that blanketed forest floors, ashes that have dissolved into nothingness.

Book excerpt from archival documents
(Official report on the Volchin massacre, received from Yad Vashem.)

Document Number 8
Volchin, September 29, 1944. The committee for the investigation and prosecution of the murderers for their crimes in Volchin territory and the surrounding area...witnessed the writing of this document.

On September 22, 1942, a group of nine Germans with the help of 20 [local] police, organized a mass killing by shooting of Volchin’s Jews and some of Chernavchich’s Jews. [They were brought to the Volchin ghetto.] The total killed by shooting on that day was 497 people....

According to witnesses, documents, and articles that were brought to us, the committee came to the conclusion that on the same day, September 22, 1942, an order was given to the ghetto Jews to take their valuable belongings and be ready for transportation to the Visoke-Litovsk ghetto. To avoid delays, all the belongings were put on the nearby wagons, where they also put the disabled people. The convoy, including the Germans and the local police, went slowly in the direction of Visoke-Litovsk. Two hundred meters from the end of Volchin, they were led to a former sand quarry, to a pit where it was intended to throw the bodies after they were shot. Prior to the killings, the victims, including men, women, and children, were ordered to remove their clothes and remain naked.

The killings, by shooting, were conducted in groups of three to five people. They were led to the edge of the pit, were shot, and thrown into the pit. People were shouting, crying, and begging for mercy — nothing helped…. Those who refused to go to the pit were shot in place, and, sometimes when they were still alive, dragged into the pit. Some of the babies were lifted from the ground into the air, shot, and thrown into the pit.

In this way, the German fascists and their helpers killed everybody…. After the killings, the Germans and their helpers took the Jews’ belongings on the carts for themselves....

Book Review

“Bashert is an emotional roller-coaster ride. I laughed heartily at some of the family anecdotes, and I cried bitterly at the description of the horrific executions of innocent men, women and children whose only crime was being Jewish. I kvelled with Andrea when I learned of her family’s bravery and courage...and I mourned the senseless loss of so many loved ones. Bashert is essential reading.... While we are all aware of the horrifying misery that confronted Jews and other minorities in the concentration camps...much of what occurred in the smaller and often unknown villages inside Czarist Russia remains unreported. Bashert opens our eyes to the personal story of a strong and determined young woman, who lost her home and family...and found a new life in America. Masha will take a place in your heart as she did in her granddaughter’s and mine and create a pocket of warmth and pride that will forever remind you of how the strength of one person can change the destiny of an entire family. I urge you to read Bashert, but please be sure to have a hanky at hand.”
—Michael D. Fein, editor, The Gantseh Megillah

Selected Work

Novel/Historical Fiction
A novel inspired by a true story of survival. "A work of power and poignancy..." -- Michael Berenbaum
New York Jew makes emotional post-Holocaust pilgrimage. “A loving eulogy to her lost family.”
—George Cohen, Booklist
Walking Tour App
Insider's path from the start of Riverside Park to Morningside Heights.
Visual Images
Art/Editorial Photo Books
New! The massive subterranean complex.
Evocative photos and essays of volunteer experience in Tanzania.
Images of people and places, spanning more than 20 years.
INDOCHINA: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia
Tanzanian women accomplish remarkable humanitarian missions.