A Parent’s Personal Testimony.

by Caroline Isakow

Lena Fiszman has asked me to describe the process I followed to record the personal testimony of my father, who is a Holocaust Survivor. I give thanks and gratitude to Vardi Glotzer and Natan Mittelman who encouraged me to ask my father for his story.

I had reached that age and knew that if I didn’t have my questions answered and curiosity laid to rest I might be sorry in the future. Below is a guideline of the steps you need to follow if you dare to take this journey with your parent. It may not be easy emotionally, but it will be enlightening, educational and worthwhile. Try it!

1. Convince your parent that you really want to know the truth. This may take some convincing as most of their life has been focused on loving and supporting you and your siblings.

2. Create a non-threatening environment. Find a quiet place where you can talk uninterrupted each week.

We chose my flat as it was away from my father’s home and interruptions from telephone calls. We met at the same time each week for one hour sessions. Mutually agree which language your parent is most fluent and comfortable and thereby the processes and expressions are most lucid.

In my case, the choice was between English and Yiddish. We chose Yiddish as my father felt most comfortable at home, although we seriously weighed up the possibility of his grandchildren wanting to know their Zaide’s story in the future. We overcame this by deciding to record in Yiddish, whilst I took notes in English. These notes would later be typed up and perhaps take the form of a small book for family and friends.

3. Decide what period of time is of most interest.

I decided that September 1939, the outbreak of World War II was the period where I wanted to start. My father obliged. We moved from World War II to the Post War Period in Europe, the migrant experience in the 50’s and 60’s in Australia and then returned to Poland to record stories of my father’s childhood.

4. Decide if you are simply going to listen, record, write and/or video tape the conversations. I found that it was impossible to just listen and retain all the information, so I wrote notes whilst my father spoke.

It was well worth the process which will vary from person to person. Thankfully, my father has an extraordinarily clear memory and managed to give me a historical/political/economic perspective. He remembered names of Generals in the Russian and German armies, names of people in camps (and he was in several). The journey was initially filled with much fear for me. How would I react to his stories? I managed to be composed at all times and so gave my father strength and trust to entrust me with his life story.

Every minute.

It took us one year to complete the process and even so recent history was omitted. Some people may only require a few sessions, a few weeks or months.

What did I gain from the experience? I gained so much that I can’t quantify it. It certainly changed the relationship between the two of us. It’s no longer a relationship of child and parent, but now we are two equal adults respectful and all knowing of each other. It’s a priceless outcome.

Should any of you want to embark on this urgent mission, I am more than happy to assist in anyway possible.

I took a break after that year of recording and as yet have not written my book.

Now I hope to start work with my mother who doesn’t remember as much as my father and chooses to have selective memory. My mother will not talk about the war years. Instead I have spoken to her about her childhood.

Earlier this year her brother visited from Los Angeles and I asked him to fill in some of the gaps. He also could not fill in all the gaps so he wrote to a second cousin in Encino, California and now I have a new contact and a new source of information.

The quest continues. It’s challenging, exciting, and fulfilling. Good luck on your journey. Every journey, be it good or bad leaves its mark.

Postscript: Caroline Isakow is a member of Descendants of the Shoah. Caroline spent one year as a committee member of our organization.


Back to the Stories Index