Children in war and second-generation trauma
June 1, 1943, Eastern Poland. Within just a few hours, the village of Sochy had ceased to exist. Buildings were burned. Residents shot. Among the survivors was nine-year-old Teresa Ferenc, who saw her family murdered by German soldiers, and would never forget what she witnessed the day she became an orphan. The horror of that event was etched into her very being and passed on to her daughter, author Anna Janko. A Little Annihilation bears witness to both the crime and its aftershocks—the trauma visited on the next generation—as revealed in a beautifully scripted and deeply personal mother-daughter dialogue. As she fathoms the full dimension of the tragedy, Janko reflects on memory and loss, the ethics of helplessness, and the lingering effects of war.
June 2, 2020
1. In what ways has the author inherited her mother’s trauma?
2. How do memory and research interact in an account such as this?
3. “Lullabies aren’t sung in reverse,” Anna Janko writes. Do you think Anna forgives her mother for making Anna feel abandoned during her own childhood?
4. Why does the author put such an emphasis on writing out the many names of the victims?
5. Renia’s account is eyewitness testimony, while Anna’s is an “inherited” narrative of the same event. How are the two different? In what ways are both important?
6. What roles do photographs play in this book?
7. Stalin allegedly once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” How does Anna Janko’s testament engage with this type of attitude?
8. Do you find Anna Janko’s account to be more subjective or more objective in its nature, or perhaps equally both? Which do you feel is more important when it comes to this type of narrative?
9. How does the author situate the Sochy massacre in relation to the other acts of genocide and mass killings throughout history and around the world? Why?
10. Do you believe the author arrives at closure through the writing of this book?
“Scenes from the war live on as trauma in the memory of the next generation. A Little Annihilation by Anna Janko is an extraordinarily personal and powerful account of how the worst wartime atrocities affect ordinary people and are seldom recorded in the official histories.” —OLGA TOKARCZUK
“This shocking yet tender story rendered me speechless for several hours. Anna Janko drags her family’s tragic past out from the recesses of memory, but she also provides us with a lifeline.” —WIOLETTA GREG
“A Little Annihilation explores war and the relentless grind of history on a human scale—and as such, it is a haunting word of warning for the present and the future.” —European Literature Network
“This is a book about children in war and how we inherit trauma—factual and unflinching, but touching and tender…As with Svetlana Alexievich’s reportage, in this book war is shown not only as a tragic episode in history, but as a living memory, which even after many years puts us on our guard as a danger which could recur.” ―Lithub
“War-time trauma can be carried over to the next generations and Anna Janko creates a powerful story of her inherited fear. This is a daring book about dealing with the painful family memories of World War II and the Holocaust, and about processing the hereditary trauma which has become part of Janko’s DNA.” —Anna Blasiak, Polish/English Translator and Coordinator at the European Literature Network
“Janko’s book digs deep into the past and into memory to examine the poisonous influence of family trauma throughout the years. It’s a harrowing journey, and a painful look at the fate of children in war. What makes the book so compelling despite that is the sheer amount of historical, creative and emotional work that we witness Janko doing in order to process what happened.” —Marta Dziurosz, Translator
“Janko’s mother’s story is her story. She will live with it. Such is the magic of this book. Janko stares into the abyss of history and lives with it…The message is timely. It always will be.”
—Susan Babbitt, New York Journal of Books
“An exceptional book. Exceptional not just because we believe the author when she speaks of her ‘genetic trauma,’ but due to the powerful language which conveys her sadness, anger and goading irony, while verging on cynicism. Emotional truth emanates from this book.” ―Gazeta Wyborcza
“This book argues strongly against the view that instances of war-related trauma can be ranked in a hierarchy.” ―Wprost
“Janko has masterfully combined her mother’s memories, accounts from other members of the family who could tell their own versions of the story, and references to academic texts and essays with her own testimony about inheriting such memories and facing the burden and restrictions they impose.” ―Onet.pl