Oprah: Did you know your sisters were alive?
Elie: No. When I was still in Buchenwald, I studied the lists of survivors, and my sisters' names were not there. That's why I went to France— otherwise I would have gone back to my hometown of Sighet. In France, a clerk in an office at the orphanage told me that he had talked with my sister, who was looking for me. "That's impossible!" I told him. "How would she even know I am in France?" But he insisted that she'd told him that she would be waiting for me in Paris the next day. I didn't sleep that night. The next day, I went to Paris—and there was my older sister! After our liberation, she had gotten engaged and gone to France, because she thought I was dead too. Then one day she opened the paper and saw my picture [a journalist had come to the orphanage to take pictures and write a story]. If it hadn't been for that, it may have been years before we met. My other sister had gone back to our hometown after our release, thinking that I might be there. It took almost a year [after meeting my other sister] for us to meet again.
Oprah: After living through such an atrocity, was it possible for you to be normal again—to go on with your life?
Elie: What is abnormal is that I am normal. That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life—that is what is abnormal.
Oprah: How did what you experienced affect the way you reared your son?
Elie: I let my son choose the moment when we would speak about what happened to me. I didn't want to impose—I let him develop his own curiosity. When I traveled, I often took him with me [so he could see what my work was about]. And one day he came to me and said he wanted to go back with me [to my hometown and the camps].
Oprah: How old was your son then?
Elie: He had just finished college. I took him and one of my nephews back home to my little town, and I showed them my house. Then we went to Birkenau. That trip was a defining moment in our lives.
Oprah: How so?
Elie: My son and I talk differently to each other now. It deepened our relationship.
Oprah: Because he knows a part of you he hadn't known?
Elie: Not because he knows it. He saw it.
Oprah: And reading a book could not have helped him see it?
Elie: Not even reading my book.
We Hear You!