When I remember the mother of my childhood, I remember her washing the dishes, scrubbing the floor, or checking and doubling-checking the gas burners to make sure they were completely off, and we wouldn't all be gassed in our sleep. She had a special chant she used as she checked the burners. Standing with her hands on her hips and one finger outstretched, she began, "Silver. One. Two. Three. Off." And again, "Silver. One. Two. Three. Off." If she was interrupted, she would begin again. "Silver. One. Two. Three. Off." But even if she wasn't interrupted, she would begin again. Leaving the house was an anxiety-ridden process of checking, and double checking, to make sure there would be a house to return to. Needless to say, my mother was always late.

Her rules were all that stood between her and the abyss of anxietyYears later, as an adult, I would begin to understand her anxiety about being gassed as an inter-generational inheritance from my grandmother's adolescence interred in the concentration camps. But as a child I couldn't begin to make the connection between our enormous, white, antique gas oven, and my silent, sad, and obese Yiddish-speaking grandmother, who shopped and cooked in preparation for the great famine that never arrived.

The other memory I have of my mother is of her talking on the phone. Besides anxiety, paranoia was her constant companion. She was always checking to make sure we hadn't been kidnapped, especially by my father from whom she was divorced. If I went to a friend's house, she would call to make sure I was there. If I went to school early or late, she would call the school.

And while all families have rules, ours were especially rigid. Our very safety, our continued existence, depended on following them exactly. Failure to follow the rules invoked my mother's wrath, because her rules were all that stood between her and the abyss of anxiety and paranoia that constantly threatened to engulf her.

By the time I was eleven years old, I had assisted my father in proving her mental instability in order for him to gain custody. At that time, it was rare for a father to gain custody of an eleven-year old girl. The judge and court-appointed psychiatrist had to grapple with whether being raised by a mentally-impaired mother was preferable to being raised without a mother. Ultimately, what swayed them was my own insistence upon leaving.

At age eleven, I left my mother's house like a refugee, without time to back a bag, or even a set of pajamas. I went to court that morning with my mother, and left court to live with my father. My own dramatic leave-taking was a less traumatic mirror of my grandmother's adolescent leave-taking, torn from her home and family without time to pack a bag, and loaded onto a cattle-car bound for the unknown.

For my mother, my choosing to live with my father was an unspeakable betrayal. Ultimately she came to the conclusion that my father had drugged, and brainwashed me against her. She never understood that it was her own unspeakable anxiety and paranoia that drove me away.

When I went to live with my father, I locked my childhood memories of her insanity in a box, where they remained terrifying and unspeakable. Ultimately, I locked my own femininity in that box as well, since the emotional terrain of women seemed somehow linked to my mother's insanity. I too lived in the shadow of an abyss, the abyss of who she was, and what it meant that she was my mother.

Was being raised by a mentally-impaired mother preferable to being raised without a mother?Even as an adult, this box remained locked against memory, and the gentle probing of my therapist. It was only motherhood, and the birth of my daughter, that would ultimately prove strong enough to open the box. As an adult, I came to understand my mother in light of the obsessive–compulsive disorder she suffered from, which structured her behavior according to rigid and repetitive lines. According to our uniquely Jewish family history, my grandmother's psychosocial development was gravely interrupted in early adolescence, when she was swallowed up in the fury of Hitler's rage. After the war, she was spit back out into premature adulthood in a DP camp, where she married my grandfather and gave birth to my mother, despite the physical and emotional depletion of her body and soul.

My grandparents' marriage didn't last, and my grandmother raised my mother alone, a Yiddish-speaking immigrant in New York, in a nursery filled with Yiddish-speaking ghosts who whispered Holocaust tales and revenge fantasies to my mother in place of nursery rhymes and fairy tales. For my grandmother, and for my mother, her only daughter, the wolves were real, only it wasn't the witches being fed to the ovens. It was everyone.

I can't blame my mother, whose illness and family history prevented her from being able to mother, nor can I blame my grandmother for raising a daughter unable to mother. I can only wonder at the countless cross-generational tragedies only now being felt, only now being spoken of. My grandmother's experiences in Hitler's death camps were too much for her to be able to process in one generation. My mother, born at the end of the war, nevertheless fell backwards through time to become as traumatized by the war as my grandmother herself.

As a daughter, confronting this Pandora's box of mental illness and trauma of early and unnatural separations, of anxiety to keep children safe in a world where they were hunted as prey, I too am overwhelmed by the enormity of speaking out and mourning these tragedies. And yet, I am also a mother, determined to mourn these ghosts in order to prevent this inheritance from being passed down to haunt and hurt another generation.