Wednesday, March 13, 2013

hol·o·caust 

/ˈhäləˌkôst/


Noun
Destruction or slaughter on a mass scale, esp. caused by fire or nuclear war: "a nuclear holocaust".
The mass murder of Jews under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941–45.

***
I am not a fan of what is referred to as Holocaust literature. Not because I don’t think it needs to be read. It does, but by everyone else on earth, just not by me. I have already consumed my quota of books, lectures and films on the Holocaust. As a child in the 1950s, I remember sitting in my seat at school, equally riveted and horrified as I watched firsthand newsreel footage taken by Allied soldiers upon liberation of concentration camps. The images still haunt. 

An estimated 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust. Six million of these were Jews.
What more do I need to know about the horrors. Nothing. Or so I thought. 

Late summer, 2012, I received a notice from the Ryerson School of Continuing Education. In conjunction with the Azrieli Foundation, they had created the Sustaining Memories Project, and were looking for “Partners,” or writers, to work with Holocaust survivors who wanted, and needed help, to write their memoirs. To my surprise, I was interested. More than. I signed on the dotted line.

I grew up in the 1950s with Holocaust survivors in my midst. My grandparents had left Russia and Poland in the early 1900s to escape pogroms. Their neighbours, from the shtetls they had come from, weren’t all so fortunate. Those who had stayed and somehow survived the concentration camps thereafter, arrived in my hometown Detroit after the war,  many on my grandparents’ doorsteps. I was five years old when I asked my father why the lady I was looking at had blue numbers written on her arm. Not surprisingly, he had no answer a child could understand.

I have now completed my partnership with an 82 year-old survivor from Romania. Together, we wrote a memoir of  her life before, during and after deportation to a concentration camp. She was 10 years old when she and her family were herded into the cattle car that transported them to the river Dniester, then barged across the water into Ukraine where they remained for the next four years. She lost thirty-six members of her family during those years, including her grandparents. She was fourteen when the Soviets liberated them. 

I met with F., my holocaust survivor partner, for five meetings. I interviewed her, sometimes as long as two hours. I taped these interviews, transcribed them, then worked on creating a cohesive story from all that she told me. She did more work than me, however. It was her story, after all. A story, like the arm of the woman I remember as a child, indelibly printed.

It would be an understatement to say that it was painful listening to F. At times, I wanted to stop our interviews. I wanted to protect her. I couldn’t bear taking her back to such dark places, such dark times, to such evil. But we never stopped. We went there and we went beyond.

Fortunately, what will stay with me from my experience, now completed in a 150-page memoir, is not the dark places or times. My holocaust survivor is just that, a survivor. After release from the camps at age fourteen, F. put together a life of grace, integrity and purpose. Yes, she still suffers from anxiety attacks and haunting dreams. But the hatred and inhumane acts of others did not manage, somehow, to contaminate or destroy her.

I am grateful for the time I spent with F. and grateful that I could help her tell her story –   a story I think everyone in the whole world should know about - including me.



1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, Linda. What a hard job for both of you to do those interviews. Must be good for her to know that her story will carry on, though.

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