In her thirties, Helen Fremont discovered that her mother and father were both Jewish. Fremont had been raised as a Roman Catholic and her parents had never spoken of their Jewish background. After Long Silence: A Memoir chronicles Fremont’s efforts to learn about her Jewish family and the horrifying events they survived during the Russian and German occupations of Poland. Fremont’s search led to painful confrontations with the only surviving members of the two families: her mother, her father, and her aunt.
Fremont’s mother and aunt had survived World War II and escaped Poland by creating false identities: Aunt Zosia, married to an Italian, became an Italian Catholic countess from Rome, while Fremont’s mother Batya transformed herself into a Polish Catholic secretary to the Italian army. Their lives depended upon their skill at playing these roles. Fifty years later Zosia and Batya are more or less the women they once only pretended to be, and have raised their children Roman Catholic as insurance against disaster. Fremont had even been taught as a child to say the Our Father in six languages as “proof of [her] Catholicism to anyone in a dozen countries.”
Fremont’s mother’s pain and confusion, her father’s loyalty to her mother, her aunt’s iron will, and her own difficult decision to come out to her family as a lesbian are offered here without resort to tidy resolutions or happy endings. Fremont’s account is compelling and emotionally honest, even as the survivors ultimately choose the safety of silence over Fremont’s need to talk and to know.