This may not be fair, but after fifty years of work with Holocaust survivors I have grown increasingly despairing about how much the way we engage survivors is drowning in patronizing and presumption.
What follows is a monologue drawn from a new play that concerns this issue. Tell me if I’m wrong. Thank you.
Webinar for Holocaust Survivors
[Setting is a webinar for Holocaust survivors who are going to be interviewed for a video testimony archive. Speaker is a late-twenties Jewish guy, well coiffed, well intentioned. There is a screen behind him that says “Testimony Webinar: Let’s Get Started.” He is standing as he would in a Ted Talk, with a headset mic.]
(Looking out) Hello? Hello? Are we on? Good. Yes. We’re good.
Hello, survivors! So, so good to have you with us today for our webinar, “Let’s get started.” That’s what we’re doing today. We want to get you started.
So I know you all know how important this is. Many of you have been interviewed before. You’ve given testimony. And this will probably be like that, but we have some guidelines to be sure everything comes out perfectly.
We want to honor your stories. Your memories. Your trauma. We know this is your legacy. For your children. And grandchildren. And all the future generations. L’dor v’dor, yes? From generation to generation.
We pass the stories. Like Passover. We pass the stories of when we were slaves in Egypt. So it never happens again. This is just like that. Like Passover. But it’s digitalized. Does that?….I mean, it’s on tape. For the future generations. L’dor v’dor.
So here are the basics.
You’ll have two or three hours to tell your Holocaust stories as fully as you can. Now we’ll also spend about ten or fifteen minutes talking about your life before the Shoah. Your family, your school, your shul, your community, and all that stuff. And then there will be some time after when you can show us pictures of your grandchildren and that kind of thing. If you don’t have grandchildren, sometimes people talk about their pets or their hobbies. We had one Auschwitz guy who had a hole-in-one trophy! How amazing is that?! He was in Auschwitz and then he learned to play golf! And he was pretty good at it.
So we have to keep to time, but we don’t want you to feel rushed. Just try to keep things to the point. Your story will be more effective if you don’t wander around. Who has time for that, right?
So keep it simple and stick to the stuff you directly experienced or witnessed during the Shoah. That’s what’s important. The rest of your life, your opinions and so on, that’s great. But this is about the Shoah. It’s not about you.
It’s important to keep the Holocaust stuff in chronological order—I mean, the order that things actually happened. But don’t worry. If you go off the reservation, we’ll bring you back.
And it’s important that you don’t move out of the frame—I mean, off camera—during the interview. If you have to take a break, raise your right pinky. We’ll see it, but the camera won’t pick it up. We’ll find a way to take a break. Your testimony is being done by a professional videographer. We want the best possible product. L’dor v’dor.
And don’t worry about knowing all the history. We know you are not a professional historian. No problem. We have real historians. Not to worry.
In fact—and I don’t always say this—we are very interested in whether what you remember is what actually happened. We have scholars, experts, who will analyze your stories for that. How you get it wrong is right up their alley. So no problem about that.
Same thing—we are not asking about all your Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or your survivor guilt or your parenting issues or any of that stuff. That’s your own business. We’re just here to listen.
So we’re all working together. It’s great to be dialoguing with you.
(as lights fade, some light instrumental klezmer music comes up.)