Gated Grief by Leila Levinson

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MWSA Review

Gated Grief by Leila Levinson is a well written, gripping and important book about the horror of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, and how the liberation of the camps by American GIs impacted their lives and the lives of their families.  Gated Grief is a cautionary tale of the evil in men’s hearts and the evil they may do through their government officials.

Gated Grief is at heart a quest by the author to exorcise the demons of her past by seeking understanding of the parents who had caused her to be the way she was.  The book operates on many levels, which the author skillfully integrates into the story of her mother’s mental instability and her father’s remoteness, which never allowed him to exhibit the affection that Leila so obviously craved, or to deal with his wife’s problems.  Then, there is the Holocaust, a horrific evil inflicted by Nazi Germany on the Jewish people.  One of the revelations in the book is that the concentration camps were widely dispersed throughout Germany; the German people had to know of the horrors within the camps as the ash from crematoriums covered the trees and the stench of death permeated the area.

This then, is Leila’s personal quest to uncover the source of her father’s remoteness, initiated by finding pictures in his personal effects of the horrors he found when he entered the gates of hell.  As a physician he treated the walking dead who were so far gone they were beyond his powers of healing.  The sights of what he saw and experienced scarred him for life.  Leila interviewed others who had witnessed what her father witnessed, and found that they also could only deal with the horror by burying it deep within their psyches.  And so the silent suffering of the GIs was transferred to their families.

Leila’s quest led her, as a Jew, to make an uncomfortable visit to Germany.  And of course the German people must live with their shame, not only for plunging the world into war, but for the enslavement and murder of perhaps six million people.  At the end of the book Leila uncovers her father’s special horror.  The reader will be shocked along with her, and hope that that her experience allows her to finally move on from her past.  The things of which she writes should never be forgotten.

Reviewed by: Weymouth Symmes (2011)

Author's Synopsis

After the death of her father, a World War II Army doctor, Leila Levinson discovered a concealed box of shocking photos he had taken of victims of a Nazi slave-labor camp.  "A foot emerged from the chaos of countless bodies, a leg.  Grotesquely frozen faces.  My fingers turned the photo over: Nordhausen, Germany, April 12, 1945."

Intuiting that the photos might be clues to her father’s cold silence and detachment, his intolerance of grief or sadness, she became a detective, finding and interviewing dozens of World War II veterans who also liberated Nazi concentration camps. Veteran after veteran demonstrated ongoing pain and shock.  “My mind froze.”  “I was never the same.”

Still traumatized by the unimaginable horrors they found, most of the veterans have spoken very little of what they witnessed, not even to their spouses or, as decades passed, to their adult children and grandchildren. “No words could convey the horror.” 

As many liberators opened up to Levinson, their recalling long suppressed memories created closure for them as well as for her. Gated Grief weaves their eyewitness accounts with Levinson’s own story to portray the trauma that has followed the veterans and shaped their children’s emotional lives.  Gated Grief, which includes dozens of her father’s and other veterans’ never-before-seen photos, concludes with the author’s journeying to Nordhausen in a necessary attempt to reconcile her own life.