A Conversation With Author Emily Wanderer-Cohen
“I’m starting a movement. A movement that shows that you can heal from intergenerational trauma — and stop the cycle of transmission. The first step is connecting the dots between what you’re feeling and what happened to your parent or grandparent. So many people think that they are doomed to be depressed, fearful, and anxious because their parents and/or grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and it’s simply untrue. And to those who say it’s our “duty” as 2Gs and 3Gs to continue to suffer, I wish them love and healing. I don’t believe that our ancestors wanted that at all.”
I had the pleasure to interview Emily Wanderer-Cohen. Emily is a 2G Holocaust survivor who found catharsis and a new career through her own healing from the abusive hands of her mother. This topic is timely again, unfortunately. Emily’s book, “From Generation to Generation: Healing Intergenerational Trauma Through Storytelling” was widely released on July 10. Emily has written extensively about the devastating effects the child/parent separations at our US borders will cause.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
I am the child and grandchild of Holocaust survivors. I started writing my mother’s story after she died at the end of 2014; many second-generation Holocaust survivors (we call ourselves “2Gs”) do. It became clear that I had a story to tell, too: I was connecting all sorts of dots in ways they had never connected before. Very soon after I began writing, Rachel Yehuda, a well-known researcher in the field of epigenetics and intergenerational trauma, published a study that found 2Gs had altered stress hormones. That study was an eye-opener for me; it was the first time I realized that what I was experiencing was real, and it had a name. I began to devour anything and everything I could find on intergenerational trauma. That’s when the direction of my book — and my life’s work — became clear.
I’m passionate about raising awareness of intergenerational trauma because so many people don’t realize that they suffer from it; because the trauma didn’t start with them. The root of their anxiety, depression, and fear can be traced back several generations but work is involved to discover the cause. Since publishing my book, “From Generation to Generation: Healing Intergenerational Trauma Through Storytelling,” [available July 10 where books are sold or for download] last year and speaking publicly about the topic of intergenerational trauma, I am constantly amazed and humbled by how many people, especially other 2Gs, tell me that my story was their story and ask me to help them heal.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
The most interesting interaction I’ve had since embarking on this career was meeting and talking with the daughter of a survivor of the Killing Fields in Cambodia. The trauma passed down to her by her mother was so incredibly similar to what I experienced, down to the same triggers. When she told me how her mother would yell at her for forgetting her homework at home, for example, it brought me back to my childhood and my mother doing the same thing. It was uncanny.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on two projects right now that excite me tremendously. One is a panel that I’m curating and will be hosting in different cities across the country called, “A Common Thread™.” Each panel will consist of several generations of Holocaust survivors (a survivor, a child of a survivor, a grandchild of a survivor, and a great-grandchild of a survivor). Something like this has never been done before. Each panel will be different because I’m
curating it with local community members even though the theme and messages will be the same. The panel will debut on October 16th at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, with other cities to follow. If one of your readers is interested in bringing this panel to their city, they should contact me asap.
The other project is a three-day intensive workshop I’ll be hosting in the fall/winter (dates TBD) for second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors. We’ll work on documenting actual survivors’ stories as well as the effects the Holocaust has had on the attendees themselves, with the goal of resolving some of the intergenerational trauma and stopping the cycle of transmission. I’m also bringing in somatic healers, Reiki practitioners, maybe a hypnotist…and a massage therapist. It’s going to be a great jumping off point for anyone who wants to heal.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
The two people who inspire me most are Eleanor Roosevelt and Golda Meir. Both of these women were hugely influential and powerful in a male-dominated society, and neither of them let men push them aside. My favorite necklace has a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt engraved on a gold pendant: “Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I always seem to gravitate toward historical fiction. I think it’s because it combines my love of history with my love of writing creatively. I always learn something new about the time period when I read historical fiction. Anita Diamant is one of my favorite authors.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
My writing is very direct and I don’t candy-coat anything. I think people appreciate that (readers have said as much). There are so many people in the world who don’t have a voice or are afraid to have use theirs, to speak up. I hope my writing inspires others with stories worth telling to speak and/or write their truth.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
The advice I would give to an aspiring author is two-fold. First, make sure you know exactly who your ideal reader is and write your book specifically for them. Don’t try to generalize or “be all things to all people,” because it won’t resonate with anyone. Second, know in advance how the publishing industry works and that you’re not going to get rich off book sales. If that’s your goal, you can stop right now. Better yet, figure out how to build a business coaching, consulting, or speaking based on your book.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m already starting a movement! A movement that shows that you can heal from intergenerational trauma — and stop the cycle of transmission. The first step is connecting the dots between what you’re feeling and what happened to your parent or grandparent. So many people think that they are doomed to be depressed, fearful, and anxious because their parents and/or grandparents were Holocaust survivors, and it’s simply untrue. And to those who say it’s our “duty” as 2Gs and 3Gs to continue to suffer, I wish them love and healing. I don’t believe that our ancestors wanted that at all.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. It’s lonely being an entrepreneur — Make sure you find a group online or in person of like-minded individuals. For me, having my fellow authors and coaches (mostly women!) a click away has been a life-saver. And mentors are crucial.
2. Be prepared for silence about your accomplishments from your family — Nothing prepared me for the complete lack of a single family member reaching out to me after I had the courage to write my story.
Now that I’m on the verge of publishing a second book, I’m not expecting anything. I draw inspiration and support from those who know what I’ve sacrificed to make a difference in the world.
3. You’re going to start to build momentum, and then you won’t — What worked one week to reach my ideal client, didn’t work the next. You have to be willing to accept that and not be ‘married’ to an idea. Fail fast, as they say. You’re constantly changing strategies and tactics — and spending money to make money.
4. Touching someone and changing their life is even better than you think — I honestly didn’t think about the personal impact I could have on someone else, just by writing my book. And then, when I started working with others and they would come out and say, “You changed my life!” it was completely humbling. And still is.
My heart is full of gratitude that I am able to serve people who need me.
5. Make sure you preserve your ‘me time’ — When you’re in the throes of building a business, it can be so exhilarating and rewarding that you want to keep working. “I can work out tomorrow,” you’ll say, and then you don’t. I realized that I had to force myself to stop working on something and go swim or play tennis or go for a hike. Put these items on your calendar just as you would a meeting and stick to it!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to have a private meeting with Steven Spielberg to discuss the importance of documenting and preserving 2G and 3G stories, as well as those of the actual survivors. My ultimate goal is to establish a foundation to reach and heal as many people as possible — and to create a repository of these stories to show the ripple effects of genocide.
Originally published at medium.com