Unearthed: A Lost Actress, a Forbidden Book, and a Search for Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust (Hardcover)
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?
Meryl Frank is president of Makeda Global Network, an international consulting firm that works with thousands of women worldwide. Over a long and varied career, she has been an activist, a mayor, an ambassador, and a champion for of women’s leadership and political participation around the world.
Frank came to public prominence in 2000 when she led a grassroots campaign against the deeply entrenched political machine in her hometown of Highland Park, New Jersey, and won election as mayor, a position she held for the next ten years. In 2009, President Obama appointed her United States Representative and, subsequently, Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. As a result of her work on behalf of women globally, she was named one of the 50 Most Influential Jews in the World by the Jerusalem Post.
In May of 2022, President Biden appointed Frank to a seat on the US Holocaust Memorial Council. She is also a member the Board of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Frank has served on the boards of the American Jewish Congress, Jewish Women International, Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, and Warmheart Worldwide. She has also served in leadership roles with the Democratic National Committee’s National Women’s Leadership Forum, and on the National Finance Committees for several presidential candidates. She is the co-editor of The Parental Leave Crisis - Toward a National Policy and as Director of the Infant Care Leave Project at the Yale Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy, she was instrumental in the development and passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
She is a graduate of Livingston College, Rutgers University and of Yale University, where she earned graduate degrees in public health, political science, and international relations. She lives in Highland Park, New Jersey.
“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
“Ms. Frank makes effective use of the work of historians of Eastern Europe…. A tale of tears and a story of survival and of the resilience of remembrance…. Meryl Frank has crafted a history based in careful research and hopes that she has raised our moral awareness about the current dangers of persecution. She has also honored the memory of her family, passing the candle of their remembrance to her readers.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Unearthed is a fascinating, exciting, and revealing book. It is a significant work of family history and reminds us of the great importance of remembering those we have lost…rich with the author’s personal reflections, the story of her research, and stories of life in Vilna, the Yiddish theater, and so much more….Unearthed teaches us the importance of remembrance….Unearthed is a well-researched and well-written book, and an important addition to the still-growing library of Holocaust literature.”—Jerusalem Post
“Frank…delivers a…poignant true story of her years of deep research to determine how relatives near and far coped with unthinkable horrors.”—Hadassah Magazine
“Meryl Frank, a talented human rights and political activist, has successfully brought light to the beauty and courage of the people who lived in this city of Yiddish literature and culture…. [Frank] humanizes our understanding of the historical facts by bringing the story to a micro level…. She offers an unflinching view of the facts, characters, and settings she encountered.”—Jewish Book Council
"Unearthed is a distinctive and unique book in the field of Holocaust literature...captivating and extremely powerful....At times touching, sad, amusing, thrilling, joyful, and always amazing, Unearthed is not merely a distinctive or unique book—it is a definite 'must read.'"—Jewish Link
**Honorable Mention: the Sophie Brody Medal (American Library Association)**
“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
“A memoir by an amazing woman… a thrilling mystery… beautifully constructed.”—The Frankie Boyer Show
"Remarkable book."—"Too Jewish" podcast
“The bad people talk about hate but the good people are afraid to talk about hate…I think what [Frank] has done, particularly with this book, is really critical.”—The Kathryn Zox Show
“A heartfelt memoir.”—WBZ1030 Boston Book Club
“A remarkable story…[Frank] writes beautifully in the book, and I think there’s something so Jewishly infused... about the idea of celebrating life rather than erasing Franya, is so important.”—Yiddish Book Center’s "The Shmooze’"podcast
"[An] amazing book."—The Positive Living Show
"[A] heartfelt memoir."—The WGVU Morning Show
“The author seamlessly educates the reader on Judaism, the holocaust in Lithuania, and Yiddish theater… Unearthed links the past to the present with Ms. Franks’ comparison of the racism of Nazi Europe to modern-day racism of all forms.”—Family Locket
“A beautiful tribute… Meryl Frank’s writing is vivid and brings to life the world of Vilna’s Yiddish theater and the horrors of the Holocaust… The book is moving as it makes you think about a dark part of history and the power of remembering. It shows us how strong the bonds of family and community are, and how much the human spirit can do. It also reminds us that we all have a duty to remember the past and work to make the future better.”—Pen Wise
“A captivating memoir that explores the legacy of the Holocaust and the importance of preserving family history… Frank's quest to uncover the truth about her cousin's death is both heartbreaking and inspiring, and her reflections on how we honor the past while moving forward are thought-provoking. Overall, Unearthed is a beautifully written and timely book that sheds light on a lost world destroyed by hatred and the power of resistance.”—FindThisBest
“Such a haunting story.”—Eric Landskroner, News12 NJ
“Reads like the best of detective novels, yet it is a true story…. Written clearly, empathetically, and well, the result is a fascinating work that draws the reader in and leaves one thinking of those lost to us all.”—The Journal of Multidisciplinary Research