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A few decades after Max J. Friedman’s parents died, his grandson asked to know more about Friedman’s parents, a pair of Holocaust survivors who met in a Swedish refugee camp and came to America to start over. Friedman realized he knew very little of who his parents really were, especially about their lives before they met one another. They never spoke of their lives before the Holocaust and very little even about the Holocaust years. He was determined to find out and ended up discovering, after a five-year, multi-nation search, who they really were – and who he had become as a result.
“My parents had a marriage that existed out of death and despair,” says Max Friedman, 72, a resident of Larchmont, New York, and the author of Painful Joy: A Holocaust Family Memoir.
“They were each married when World War II broke out in Poland. Their entire families were murdered, including my mom’s first husband and my father’s first wife, and their two young daughters. My parents found each other after they had lost everything – but all was not love and happiness for them as they struggled to move beyond their lives as victims.”
World War II killed, injured, displaced, and destroyed well over 100 million people, including the lives of six million Jews during the Holocaust. But the suffering for those Holocaust survivors did not end with the war’s conclusion nor did it evade the next generation. Friedman, too, is a survivor, and his book reveals a powerful, poignant, and insightful story.
“This book is about two people who survive the unsurvivable and then, wounded in too many ways, find love, but not redemption, discover hope, but not without suffering greatly, and search for peace, but too often in all the wrong places,” says Friedman. “It seeks to unravel their lives and answer questions: What were their lives like before the Holocaust? Who and what could they have become? How indeed did they survive when so few came out the other side? These universal questions rarely have simple answers, if any at all. Painful Joy explores what was and what might have been and in so doing, seeks to restore the humanity of those who lost too much to bear.”
Painful Joy represents five years of intensive research in the U.S., Poland, Sweden, Israel and Germany, seeking to unearth the real-life stories of two people in order to discover their roots, recreate their lives and times and uncover both their remarkable journeys and painful secrets. Part memoir, part genealogical mystery and part history, the book is an absorbing, heartwarming and, at times, heartbreaking tale as readers accompany the author on his extraordinary exploration of the complicated relationship between two Holocaust survivors who meet in Sweden after their liberation from the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, relocated to America, and experience the “painful joy” of a love too often touched by death, pain, and anguish.