A Lost Actress, a Forbidden Book, and a Search for Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust

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Regular Price $37 CAD

Regular Price $29

Regular Price $37 CAD

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On Sale

Apr 11, 2023

Page Count

256 Pages




A thrilling mystery woven into a beautifully constructed family memoir: Meryl Frank’s journey to seek the truth about a beloved and revolutionary cousin, a celebrated actress in Vilna before World War II, and to answer the question of how the next generation should honor the memory of the Holocaust.

As a child, Meryl Frank was the chosen inheritor of family remembrance. Her aunt Mollie, a formidable and cultured woman, insisted that Meryl never forget who they were, where they came from, and the hate that nearly destroyed them. Over long afternoons, Mollie told her about the city, the theater, and, above all else, Meryl’s cousin, the radiant Franya Winter. Franya was the leading light of Vilna’s Yiddish theater, a remarkable and precocious woman who cast off the restrictions of her Hasidic family and community to play roles as prostitutes and bellhops, lovers and nuns. Yet there was one thing her aunt Mollie would never tell Meryl: how Franya died. Before Mollie passed away, she gave Meryl a Yiddish book containing the terrible answer, but forbade her to read it. And for years, Meryl obeyed. 
Unearthed is the story of Meryl’s search for Franya and a timely history of hatred and resistance. Through archives across four continents, by way of chance encounters and miraculous discoveries, and eventually, guided by the shocking truth recorded in the pages of the forbidden book, Meryl conjures the rogue spirit of her cousin—her beauty and her tragedy. Meryl’s search reveals a lost world destroyed by hatred, illuminating the cultural haven of Vilna and its resistance during World War II. As she seeks to find her lost family legacy, Meryl looks for answers to the questions that have defined her life: what is our duty to the past? How do we honor such memories while keeping them from consuming us? And what do we teach our children about tragedy?

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“Zechor, remember, is the eleventh commandment of all Holocaust survivors and their children. Meryl Frank fulfills that commandment to its fullest. Her book is a must-read to understand what it was like to have lived, struggled, fought, and died in Vilna and its surroundings. Unearthed tells a great story of courage, faith, and survival.”—Abe Foxman, Holocaust survivor and national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League
“Thought-provoking, nuanced, and the product of rigorous research, Unearthed is a beautiful and necessary book. In her search for her cousin Franya, Frank fills the silences of the Holocaust with stories and lovingly deploys the skills required to solve mysteries across decades and continents. Masterfully, she shows us the importance of connecting to others and of plunging into the shadows in order to forge our way out. This immersive detective story and memoir illuminates how trauma and the redemptive power of connection reverberate through time and place. Riveting and deeply moving. I couldn’t put it down.”—Ariana Neumann, New York Times bestselling author of When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father's War and What Remains
"Meryl Frank has written a deeply moving and compelling book. It reads like a mystery thriller. This is a gripping story, beautifully told."—Ambassador (Ret.) Stuart E. Eizenstat, Chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council and author of Imperfect Justice: Looted Assets, Slave Labor & the Unfinished Business of World War II

"Rooted in Meryl Frank’s drive to understand and honor her own family’s legacy, Unearthed offers the reader a gripping and poignant reminder that history and our own legacies are more closely connected than we often acknowledge."

Senator Cory Booker
"Sometimes the truth—though memorialized on yellowed pages in a discarded rag heap, stuffed into an underground hideout, and preserved by a beloved but formidable aunt—needs to be discovered for oneself. Meryl Frank's memoir, a meditation on history and memory and a quest to uncover her family’s Holocaust story, is a testament to the power of the past to exert its hold and to demand our recounting."—Ilana Kurshan, author of If All the Seas Were Ink
“An unflagging hunt through the darkest period of Jewish history yields treasure for a passionate researcher…. Notable is the way the horror of the Holocaust ups the ante on every discovery. Nothing stopped Frank as she traveled back and forth to Europe and later Canada, peeling back the veil and ending the silence on mass killings, brutal betrayals, and foiled escapes as well as bright flickers of courage and rebellion….After the mystery of Franya was solved, new parts of the story emerged to yield unexpected satisfaction. Frank's attitude and rigorous self-reflection will be a beacon to the many people profoundly affected by generational trauma. An unflinching project that succeeds as a small victory against the erasure of the Holocaust.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[An] engrossing debut…. Books like [Frank’s] help remind us of the horrors that happen when hate goes unchecked. This remarkable story of discovery and connection will appeal to fans of family mysteries and Holocaust history.”—Booklist
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