Steve Luxenberg is a journalist from Baltimore, MD who learned that his mother was not an only child, that she had a sister who was kept secret. His mother died before he learned the story of Annie. He then embarked on a quest to find Annie’s history.
Among the first things he learned was that Annie had multiple disabilities (an amputated leg, mental retardation, and some form of mental illness) probably due to low birth weight and being premature. Luxenberg had a lot of questions about his aunt. The main question was why his mother hid the fact that Annie existed and told everyone that she was an only child.
Luxenmberg did a good job as a journalist and researcher. My favorite part and also intriguing is the interview with Holocaust survivor Anna Schlein Oliwek, cousin of Luxenberg's mother Beth or Bertha (her real name) and the hidden aunt named Annie. Anna Oliwek made her way to the U.S. after World War II, settling with her American family in Detroit. It is her challenge to her American family's decision to secrete away the mentally and physically challenged Annie that gives the tale its moral construct. She had seen how incapacitated people were treated in Nazi Germany and was appalled that her own family would do the same thing to Annie.
For me, the most touching part of the story was when Luxenberg replaced the previously empty tombstone marker with one that read: ANNIE COHEN, APRIL 27, 1919 - AUGUST 7, 1972, DAUGHTER, SISTER, AUNT.
One thing that I am glad to have changed through the years, is the treatment of mentally and handicapped children/adults. Having a family member institutionalized for life was devastating to the person as well as the family. I am glad that we it is no longer advocated to “jail” the person but to mainstream the ones that can be. I know that in some instances some people are extremely handicapped and they have to be “sent away” but I sure hope they are still part of their family not abandoned like it happened to Annie.
On a personal note - Overall, it is a good book to be part of your reading list.