Reflections from Three Interviewers

Panel Discussion

On Sunday 19th of April we were very privileged to be addressed by a panel of three interviewers who volunteered to take testimonies for the Shoah Foundation – Dina Brustman, Christian Froelicher and Jason Walker. The evening was chaired by Pauline Rockman of the Shoah Foundation's Melbourne office and also a member of the Descendants of the Shoah Inc's committee. Pauline introduced the three speakers who have conducted 200 interviews between them over the past two years. It takes about one day to conduct each interview, which involves a pre-interview, research by the interviewer and the videotaping of the interview itself.

Our guests shared with us some of their experiences as interviewers as well as what prompted them to take on this difficult but rewarding work. Dina, who spoke first, explained that her daughter had found out about the process in early 1996. Dina had just stopped teaching and felt that this would be very worthwhile work. She had already lost both of her parents and had not heard their stories so she felt it was important to record other people's experiences. Dina found that she became consumed with reading about the Holocaust, even dreamt about it and that images from people's stories were very vivid. Dina has spent two years conducting over 60 interviews in Melbourne, rural Victoria, Perth and New Zealand. One amazing outcome was the opportunity to connect saved people with their saviours as she pieced together historical information. Dina believes most of them had never told their stories before in such a narrative form. Jason found it difficult to absorb the pain, fear, paranoia and his belief in humanity was questioned, his views about good and evil challenged. Interviewing a Righteous Gentile restored his faith in humanity.

Pauline spoke about the process of the Shoah Foundation. It aims to collect 50,000 testimonies globally.

The Melbourne team has interviewed 1300 people, including 100 or so who have no affiliation with the Jewish community. The project will wind up by the end of the year, so there is time to collect more testimonies if some people still wish to do it. The tapes are stored in a repository in Los Angeles and the survivors get their own copy. They are referenced and cross-referenced, digitized and computerized. Eventually there will be 5 repositories; the Simon Weisenthal Centre in Los Angeles, the New York Museum, the Washington Museum, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and Australia. The tapes will be edited and there will be a fully interactive package with music, photos, maps, video and text.

For some families the taking of testimony has opened the way for more telling – some people have wanted to tell their families more. The interviewers all felt privileged to be part of this amazing project, to be able to make a positive contribution as a testimony to those who survived and to the memory of those who did not survive.

We would like to thank the panel for a wonderful evening and for their generosity in sharing the wisdom they have gained from all the amazing people they have interviewed. They have made a priceless contribution to history and have opened the way for fruitful dialogue with and understanding of our survivors.

If anyone wishes to have their testimony taken by a volunteer from the Shoah Foundation, or knows someone who may wish to, please contact Pauline Rockman on 61 3 9510 7401.

Sharing Sessions are small groups of about 10 people. These groups, which are not static and re-form at each meeting, are held several times each year. The May 17th meeting will be the first Sharing Session for 1998.

These sessions provide an opportunity for us to share our feelings, thoughts and issues related to our experiences as the descendants of Holocaust survivors. Those who have attended Sharing Sessions are often surprised and affirmed by the commonality of our life experiences. People have come away from sessions feeling understood, heard and relieved that others have listened and shared, even if we don't necessarily agree on certain issues.

The groups are small, confidential, and non-threatening. People are free to express themselves in a safe and warm environment. No one will judge or criticize – just listen or talk. There is no obligation to speak; you can just listen if you want. Our facilitators are trained professionals in the medical and counselling fields and give their time freely to our meetings.

Please come along and experience a Sharing Session for the first time, if you haven't been before. And if you have been before, we'd love to see you again. Please feel free to call Jack Felman of our Committee (phone number above) if you have any questions or concerns you would like to discuss.

Back to Reviews Index Page