Hadassah Lieberman piques Zibby’s interest in transgenerational trauma in today’s episode as she recounts the need she felt to share her family story. Born to Holocaust survivors and married to a former U.S. Senator, Hadassah has had an extraordinary life and carries the weight of others’ narratives with her: after finding and translating her mother’s diary, she knew this memoir could not be just hers alone.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Hadassah. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Hadassah Lieberman: Thank you. So happy to be here. I really am.

Zibby: Your memoir, oh, my gosh, so beautiful. Your family story, the things that your family have gone through, it was breathtaking to read and go through it again with you. What was it like to write about it?

Hadassah: There’s always an underlying agony to uncover more and more about your parents, about their families, about my family. I did it because I wanted to convey, beyond me as a representative of a child of a generation that went through that awful stuff, the blackness of it. Then, thank god, to have come out to be an immigrant to the US and to live and to have light coming to me and out of me as I grew was a miracle. It helped me. It was difficult. Yet it reestablished everything I was ever taught and felt about being an American.

Zibby: Wow. It’s such a powerful way to turn what could be such a completely mindbogglingly traumatic, depressive experience and transitioning it to something so beautiful. It’s just impressive. Not everybody could do that.

Hadassah: Thank you. My parents were very positive despite everything that happened to them. I know my father in particular, and my mother, wanted me to be strong, to move forward, and to help say what needs to be said, to share, and share with my children. Thank god, we now have twelve grandchildren. I have that obligation, that responsibility, that history.

Zibby: I’ve always been just so darkly fascinated by the Holocaust. I’ve read so many books about it. I sort of can’t get enough, not in a self-destructive way, just, I can’t wrap my head around it no matter how much I read in stories like your dad and the march, the sister. I feel like if I just read it enough, I can conceptualize how that could happen. Yet I can’t. It doesn’t work.

Hadassah: It’s beyond. There’s so many more stories of things I didn’t hear about in my mother’s diary, my father’s book. There are no answers. That’s the problem. In our modern world, in some ways, we don’t get it. Some people don’t want to get it. They want to get away from it. That why I wrote this.

Zibby: I interviewed Chris Bohjalian, who’s a thriller writer, wrote Midwives and all this, yesterday. He was talking about the Armenian genocide and saying that without the Holocaust or without that — the two went hand in hand.

Hadassah: Yes, it’s awful. That’s why we are obligated to teach, to learn, and to teach our children how to behave, how to be civil, and how to be nice to people, how to not judge people, to be tolerant. That’s how we want to create a better society. The words in Hebrew are tikkun olam, which means repair the world. That’s really something I think is so important.

Zibby: Yes. My daughter learns about that in Hebrew school on the weekends. We just had to do a video about it for her end-of-the-year ceremony. Yes, I’m familiar with that.

Hadassah: How old is she?

Zibby: I have four kids. This particular daughter is almost fourteen.

Hadassah: That’s nice.

Zibby: The thing that I can’t believe is when people feel like it didn’t even happen. The only parallel I see is that some people weren’t even believing the coronavirus was happening as it was happening. Then I’m like, well, okay, you just can’t reason with — I did this whole paper in college about children of Holocaust survivors because I was so interested in what the transgenerational effects of that were and what happens, especially for displaced persons camp victims and families. Where do they all go? This whole notion of inherited trauma, how it’s in your DNA, what do you think about that? When does it end? Does it end? Your grandchildren, do you feel they will carry this around? How do you think that works?

Hadassah: Our daughter, who’s now in her thirties and has five boys and lives in Israel, our youngest, I really think she has that feeling inside her. All my kids do, she in particular. It’s sort of surprising because she’s the youngest and the furthest away, but it’s right there, and with our children too. It’s something we don’t emphasize daily. We don’t do that. It’s very important. My father, alav hashalom, may his soul rest in peace, my father used to say when he marched through and up to Russia — all the cold in Siberia, so many people died along the way as they marched. Watching them die, he said to himself, there’s no one to bury them. There’s no one to say Kaddish, the memorial prayer for them. That’s amazing. It was something they had to accept. Some of these people cut the fleshes off of dead horses to have meat to eat. This is such a fantastically horrible story. We can’t believe it happened to us. How can anything go on today, anything — it’s one Holocaust after another. By listening to words out there on the streets, whether it’s from leaders or people that are inappropriate, we can’t allow that to continue. We must influence people toward the good. We have to start with our own children, our own societies.

Zibby: I love that. My other question reading this book, really, was — it’s so evident how in love your husband is with you still. His introduction to you and how he fell in love at the beginning, he just seems to worship you, at least on the page. I’ll go with that. How do you keep that up in a marriage for a lifetime, that sense of love and wonder and all the butterflies?

Hadassah: Look, butterflies change with age. I am very lucky. After a divorce, I met someone who learned to love my son and I learned to love his two teenagers when I met them. In itself, it’s hard to love your own teenagers sometimes. We really worked hard at it. One thing about Joe, when my roommate said to me, “I want you to meet him. He’s a politician, but he’s a good guy,” I laughed at that. I thought, what is she saying? Joe and I have been married now, I think it’s thirty-eight years now. You know what? We’re very lucky. That doesn’t mean every minute, every day is perfect, every hour is perfect. Our obligation to each other is to be able to talk honestly and to be able to not talk about everything. There were times when we were bonding with our children I thought, oh, my god, I can’t believe they don’t really like me yet, in the beginning. There are things you can’t say because everything takes time. We see with this crazy virus how every day you have to make something different. You have to put a bow on. You have to make an effort. Why are we making efforts for the outside world sometimes and not our own spouses? Why aren’t we doing some jokes, some perfume? It’s important.

In some ways, I understand women’s lib — I was part of that, and feminism, etc. — are not allowing people to feel freer, I think, about saying anything that isn’t totally liberated. Truthfully, relationships take a lot of work. It’s not only, oh, I can do this, I can do that. It’s great to be able to succeed and simultaneously take care that you don’t alienate each other or find something else of more interest. That’s dangerous. We have to think that way. I know it’s hard. Look, I got divorced. Obviously, I didn’t do that whole thing perfectly. We’ve never talked badly about each other’s spouses. We’ve worked hard. We never used step in our marriage to any children. He married me knowing I had a son. I would not have married him or he me if we didn’t know that we could potentially be people who showed our love to each other’s children and make them our children. There’s too much of that that goes on today in the world of divorce. People don’t realize how respectful you have to be of each other’s parent. After all, it’s their parent. To that parent, they’re like their skin, their arm, their leg. It’s hard work. Nothing, as we know, comes easily.

Zibby: Thank you. I’m divorced. I’m remarried, newly, not too newly, three years now. That was particularly relevant, awesome advice for me, so thank you. Thank you for that. I had four kids when we got married. He has adopted them as his own. Although, I have my ex-husband. Yes, we have the same sort of —

Hadassah: — You know what I always said? You have to put boots on to climb the hills. They’re hard hills. They’re hard. There are times it can eat you up inside because things aren’t perfect. It takes time. To have that strength to not talk about it every time it happens is so important. I remember my oldest daughter, who I acquired, someone asked her — she’s quoted in my book. I have quotes from all of our children, which was important. They were pretty honest. Someone asked her, “Do you mind when Hadassah calls you her daughter?” Becca answered, “No.” It was hard at first because her father is marrying someone else, the whole bit. It was very hard. Now I have such deep feelings for her. I know she feels that way toward me. We are very close. We love each other. My little one, that’s the funniest thing. She came from Joe and me. When she was little, she used to say, “Mommy, I’m the only one who doesn’t have a parent to go to on a weekend.” It was so funny. We realized as we had set it up, we didn’t say anything negatively. Therefore, she felt like she was being cheated.

Zibby: Aw, that’s really funny. We did not have kids together. I was like, “If we have kids together, then we don’t have any time off.” I’m kidding.

Hadassah: You can’t think that way.

Zibby: No, I’m joking. There were other reasons for it.

Hadassah: I know. Hani made our circle strong. They’re saying it in the quotes. She made our circle stronger. She says, “My parents are both my parents. Each of my siblings only have one.” It’s so funny. Who knows?

Zibby: Who knows? How was it writing this book? What was the experience? Was it emotional for you? Is it something you felt for a long time you needed to do and now you finally did it? Tell me about that.

Hadassah: After we found my mother’s diary and translated it and had her — it’s in the book too. It was translated by someone at the Holocaust Museum so I could read it. It was originally in Czech. She said, “I wrote this diary. It’s short. I can’t write anymore.” You can read that in the book. “I look to my children to complete things.” When I saw that, I thought, oh, my god, I don’t have a choice. I have an obligation. You know what? To be who I am, to have my mother write that in her diary, to have my husband have been a US senator, run for public office, to have been part of that campaign, and to think I have to do this, I have to write this book because I want this to come out, I want to share with people, not that I need to sell copies of the book. The reality of publishing and everything, you don’t sell that many copies. I want to get this out to have people read it. That’s really why I ask people to join me in this. I talk about divorce, and nothing specific. I don’t discuss anything because my ex — as I say in the book, we who have had exes, you’ve had a first child with that ex. You had a first marriage. You can’t deny that. You can’t discard that because that’s not fair to your children. I write about all of those different — immigration, religion, everything like that. They’re all the subjects that we are concerned about and talk about and live through today.

Zibby: Do you feel like your obligation has been fulfilled? Do you feel okay? Do you want to keep digging or trying to find more? Is this something that’s never really going to be done?

Hadassah: On the one hand, it will never be done because we don’t understand it totally. We don’t get it totally. On the other hand, I did it. I don’t intend to say any more on the subject. There’s so much out on there on the Shoah, the Holocaust. I’m not in competition. I don’t have anything more to add. What I wanted to do is start with the blackness and end up with the story of me running, competing for the I Speak for Democracy contest and my father looking at the essay I wrote. Of course, he had to edit it a little bit. All of a sudden, I won it. I was in the convertible with the Massachusetts congressman, who wasn’t Ted Kennedy at the time. I was waving to the people. My parents always went to Memorial Day and stuff like that, and parades and the masses. They were looking at me sitting in that car waving, standing. They were touched. I saw a tear in their eye, of course. Look where we had come. This was the land of liberty, the home of the brave and free. My father, who was an ardent Zionist, wanted to go to Israel, but it was in ’48, ’49. There was a war. My mother couldn’t do another war. She couldn’t do it, so we ended up coming to the United States with my aunt and , uncle and aunt, the Hungarian words for uncle and aunt. She had no children, so my brother and I were like her children. She did things like get me pastry and this and that all the time, more like a grandma.

Zibby: Love it. Everybody needs someone to bring them pastry all the time. A couple schnecken, and you’re on your way.

Hadassah: And someone who doesn’t care, okay, you’re gaining weight. Don’t worry about it.

Zibby: Exactly, oh, my goodness. Do you look back on the time when you were so in the public eye and ever miss it? Do you ever miss it, or are you happy to have it in the past? How do you feel about it now?

Hadassah: I would say it was a unique experience. It started with Joe. When I met him, he was running for attorney general. Then before that, he had run for a state office in Connecticut. Then he ran for the US Senate. Then down to 2000, he was on the national ticket. Truthfully, when you go through an experience like that, you can’t say, I didn’t like it. Was it overwhelmingly physically difficult? Did it take everything out of you timewise? It was the most incredible experience for me. To realize that through politics you can get out there and talk to people, you can get out there — there were people in the Midwest — I’ll never forget when I was there with my own place. We all had our schedules. I would walk through groups. I had no idea if they were voting republican or democrat. They came up to me and said, “I like your husband. He’s a religious man. I like him.” I was so touched by that inside me. That was such an American experience at that time. We were together. What difference does it make if you have a different opinion? We used to sit down at tables and talk to people whether they agreed with you or not. That didn’t matter. We talked to each other. Maybe they could convince you. You could convince them. That’s a difference to today. I don’t like that difference. We have to try to change that as we talk to each other.

Zibby: That’s very true.

Hadassah: That’s why your program’s important.

Zibby: Thank you.

Hadassah: No, I mean that. I mean that.

Zibby: Thank you. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors having lived through now this book-writing/publishing process?

Hadassah: My advice, this is also having spent time exchanging things with friends who were trying to publish their books. You’ve got to let your ego go because it can be debilitating because you don’t know. You can get so many different no’s. You think, oh, my goodness, I thought this was great. People should get it. They should read it. Also, in some ways, some of the books people would like to publish, not want to publish, have more violence, have more sex. It becomes a different book. That’s not the book I was trying to write. I would say it’s tough publishing. That’s why a lot of people are publishing their own books, is a whole new trend. There’s so many different trends out there. After COVID, we still don’t know which things are going to make it, which places will be successful, which will fall down. It’s a mystery tour, like everything today. That’s what I keep saying. I use the word mystery too much. I would advise, good luck. Work hard. Know that despite that, there may not be that much interest. Be tough as you go forward, as I have my hay fever pills.

Zibby: Wow, Hadassah, thank you. This was so nice. I was so excited to get a chance to talk to you today. It’s just been such a pleasure. I can’t thank you enough. It’s really meaningful to me. Thank you.

Hadassah: Thank you. Good luck with your fourteen-year-old.

Zibby: Thank you.

Hadassah: And with everything. Just be strong and move forward, as I’m sure you’re doing anyway. Take care. Thank you for interviewing me. Thank you for publicizing what I’m trying to convey to your audiences.

Zibby: It’s so important. It’s really, really important. It’s an honor.

Hadassah: Thank you, sweetie.

Zibby: Bye..


HADASSAH: An American Story by Hadassah Lieberman

Purchase your copy on Amazon or Bookshop!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts