Beth-El Congregation will welcome author at May 1 event
By Deb Silverthorn
Anna Salton-Eisen is turning the pages of her life and her family’s history and heritage into a multimedia project.
Her memoir “Pillar of Salt: A Daughter’s Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust,” will be published, followed by the release later this fall of the documentary “In my Father’s Words,” both projects are a collaboration with her son Aaron Eisen. There is also the upcoming release of the 20th anniversary edition of the book “The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir.” which she wrote with her father George Salton, of blessed memory,
The three generations of history-telling will be presented by the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth & Tarrant County at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, May 1, at Beth El Congregation in Fort Worth. The event is open to the public and no registration is needed.
“These are all opportunities to tell our story, our People’s story, in a way the next generations can relate,” said Salton-Eisen. “Through the testimonies of our family, and those of children of other survivors, I have been able to weave my parents’ stories and discovery.”
The daughter of George and Ruth Salton and sister of Henry and Alan, Salton-Eisen has always felt she was a second-hand witness to the Holocaust, overwhelmed by the unspoken but ever-present trauma of her parents’ past.
Born in Rome, New York, Salton-Eisen moved to Maryland when she was just five. She grew up at what is now Congregation Har Shalom, the JCC and attended summer cap at Young Judaea. She earned a bachelor’s degree at American University and later an MSSW at the University of Texas at Arlington, after which she practiced as a therapist. Eisen is married to Dr. David Eisen and the couple are parents of Erica (Jared) Kahn and Aaron Eisen.
The Eisens moved to the Metroplex in 1984 where David Eisen began working with Texas Health Harris Methodist Hurst-Euless-Bedford; the family first attended services at congregations Ahavath Shalom in Fort Worth and Beth Shalom in Arlington. After returning from a trip to Poland with her father, Salton-Eisen was determined there would be a synagogue closer to her Colleyville home.
“I’d been to the places where my family, and where millions had perished, but where so many synagogues stood where there no longer were Jews,” said Salton-Eisen, who has made additional trips to Poland, throughout them visiting the towns where her parents lived as children during Hitler’s regime. “I came home to my city where there are Jews, but no synagogue and I just knew something had to be built.”
Her father, born as Lucjan Salzman, a survivor of 10 concentration camps, was enveloped in impenetrable grief and his history encased in secrecy. Determined to look back and break through her father’s reticence to confront the unspoken terrors of the past, Salton-Eisen, her parents and children went to Poland to unlock the history her parents had for so long shut away.
By revisiting those places of trauma with her father as her guide, Salton-Eisen found an understanding of how her identity was shaped under the Holocaust’s shadow.
“Writing ‘Pillar of Salt’ has allowed me to tell the story of looking back and share how I was changed and made incredible connections when I took on the legacy for the second generation,” said Salton-Eisen. “I found my father when I tried to help him carry the pain and memories of the Holocaust.”
University of Texas at Dallas’ Hillel A. Feinberg Distinguished Chair in Holocaust Studies Dr. David Patterson says Salton-Eisen “navigates her way through the ruins of memory, bearing eloquent witness to the scope of the Holocaust that continues to cast its shadow over generations. Anna found the courage to pen these powerful words and we must find the courage to read them and be transformed into witnesses.”
She is the second generation to find her place through her writing, her son Aaron Eisen now the third, joining his mother in the process and finding his own role.
“I was a year away from my bar mitzvah when I really learned in depth about my grandparents’ experiences during the war. I only had a very basic understanding — I was just about 12 — so not really about the trauma of it all,” said Aaron Eisen, a graduate of University of Virginia and Carroll Senior High School who attended URJ Greene Family Camp and was involved in CBI’s NFTY chapter.
“Grandpa told me about how kids in Poland called him a dirty Jew when he was in the sixth grade. When I heard this, I was in the sixth grade and kids had teased me for being a Jew. Then, with the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, I was again affected deeply,” said Aaron Eisen.
To that end, he’s worked with his mother and director Jacob Wise in providing research for the documentary film and helping his mother bring her own book outline to publication.
“I knew she had started a manuscript, but it was unfinished, and she’d thrown away all but one hard copy,” said Aaron Eisen, a former paralegal who is now working on his own third-generation memoir. “We retyped it into a digital format, and I learned so much about my mom. So much of what she’d written happened before I was born and I came to appreciate her on a completely different level.”
Salton-Eisen was a guest of Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, as Lipstadt testified at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February.
As the news broadcast the hostage situation of the family’s beloved Congregation Beth Israel, and the season of war and tragedy in Ukraine, the stories of the Salton family’s background are unnerving.
Watching on the news and seeing the 82nd Airborne Division, its infantry troop who liberated her husband May 2, 1945, Ruth Salton has witnessed two generations of service members, now in Rzeszow, offering humanitarian and military support.
“I am proud of the book my daughter and grandson have written” said Ruth Salton, who turned 100 years old Jan. 22; she too is a Holocaust survivor, former Jewish Polish refugee, and prisoner of a Russian labor camp in Siberia. After the war, she was recruited to work with the Bricha Movement, the organized underground movement that helped post-war Jews escape from Europe ultimately to Palestine — some then to the U.S. “I feel for the people of Ukraine and hate that people still have to experience war.”
“They are there, where Dad was in the ghetto and again it’s people trying to live a free life who are victims of war,” said Salton-Eisen. “We’re seeing towns being bombed, total destruction and people fleeing to the borders.”
The re-release of “The 23rd Psalm: A Holocaust Memoir” features a forward by Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust, professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University and executive editor of the “New Encyclopaedia Judaica.”
Berenbaum served as project director of the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the first director of its Research Institute and the president and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation; 20 years ago, he called Salton’s book “a powerful, searing recollection of the past that tells his story with a fierce integrity that is both descriptive and introspective.”
“This is an important time, not just in Jewish history, but in world history,” said Salton-Eisen. “The lessons of injustice, hate and discrimination are critical, and I want to—I have to—bring a new voice. It is important to speak about the unspeakable.”
A builder of a synagogue, a leader of community, a daughter — and mother — of history carried on.
L’dor v’dor — forever more.
To learn more about the Salton-Eisen families, visit AnnaSaltonEisen.com