“Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust”


Available at in-person author events (see schedule) Or online at:

Vervante Books or Amazon.com



My journey began in January, 2005, on a train in Germany, when I felt the presence of spirits who had died in the Holocaust.

Decades earlier, I had met a Buddhist teacher, a charismatic Tibetan meditation master named Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, and learned to meditate. Though not very religious, my Jewish survivor parents believed I had betrayed the heritage for which their families had been murdered. A fierce battle followed, led by my uncle who accused me of ‘killing’ my parents. Over 30 years later, these wounded spirits apparently believed my Buddhist training might help them.

“If you believe in basic goodness, help us understand how such a thing happened?” they asked. But who was I to answer such a question? Did I have the courage to try? My life had reached a turning point.

The following year, 2006, I traveled alone to Poland, the Holocaust’s largest graveyard, and especially to my mother’s city of Łódź, to find an answer while connecting with my family’s history. I returned again in 2008, and in 2009 moved to Łódź for six months, studying Polish at a language school called the “Babel” where I was the only American in a class composed largely of Arabs. With no elders in my family alive to consult, the only clues I had to my family’s past was an account my uncle had dictated before his death about my family’s life before and during the war.

IMG_0159Retracing my mother’s and uncle’s steps through Europe and revisiting the places where my ancestors had lived for centuries, I stumbled into a mysterious stream of love—if only I could receive it. Increasingly aware of my own traumatic imprints, I discovered that helping those who died meant facing my own damaged sense of belonging. And that when we open to events previously hidden, or to the darkness we avoid, a transformation occurs that widens our perception and changes us forever.

Beyond recovering a lost family history, Buried Rivers reveals powerful connections between spirituality and trauma, and intimately explores family loyalty, religious boundaries, and the invisible blessings of ancestors.

Above: the only existing family photo of my mother (top right), my uncle (bottom right), their parents, and siblings before the war.

Click on Memoir sub-menu pages to read excerpts.

  4 comments for ““Buried Rivers: A Spiritual Journey into the Holocaust”

  1. August 6, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Ellen, Gaylon came to view an installation I have up at an arts space near Kingston around which I’ve been doing a text/movment/film performance.
    I knew you were working on this some years ago but in the past few years, it’s come to me to go back to the shtetl in Belarus and on to Auschwitz, a journey which my wife and I will make in a few weeks from now. What you say about “traumatic imprints” (I’ve been saying ‘genetic terror’) and several other phrases you use are remarkably resonant (eloquently said by you) with words (and attempted meaning) that I’ve been using.
    I’m grateful that this moment to connect with you has begun.
    With warm regards, Steve Clorfeine

  2. Lenley Lewis
    June 24, 2017 at 7:32 am

    These words about your (and your family’s) journey are beautiful and eloquent. Plainspokenly elegant. How nice to have stumbled on them via a Facebook link on dralas posted by Richard Heilbrunn. Best to you and thanks for kyudo instruction years ago at Naropa.

  3. Ellen Mains
    September 28, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Dear Lenley,
    I apologize for stumbling upon your comment only today! Thanks so much, and for remembering our class at Naropa too. xo Ellen

  4. Nicki Dayley
    January 15, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    Ellen, your writing is beautiful, so evocative. I’m really looking forward to getting the book. Is it best to get it from you directly?
    It took a lot of courage to go on this journey and it sounds like what unfolded had immeasurable gifts.
    Much appreciation…and congratulations on the book.

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