Analysis of interviews with UCSB freshmen before and after meeting a Holocaust survivor in a small classroom setting.
By Jeremy Garsha, March 20, 2003

Subject

Schooling

Films

Television

Books

Museums

Survivors

Celia

Jewish Private HS [600] & Religious School

SL [on TV]

Docs

Night; Anne Frank; Primo Levi

MOT [twice]

Many, at least 3 in HS [big auditorium]; RK [Fall 02]

Annie

Private Catholic HS [small, all girls]

SL [in theater, 1993]

Lots of Docs

Night; Anne Frank; Number of the Stars [3rd grade]

USHMM

One [8th grade big auditorium];

"Speaker" in SF

Joanna

Public HS [1500] & Religious School [2nd to 10th]

L is B [in theater, 1998]

Lots of Docs [SS ones best remembered

Anne Frank; Alicia: My Story

USHMM; Israel [twice]

Many in Religious School [small setting]; RK [Fall 02]

Lauren

Public HS [2500]

N/A

N/A

Night

USHMM

10th grade, big auditorium

KEY:
Anne Frank= Diary of Anne Frank
Doc= Documentary Films
HS= high school [xxx] = the approximate number of students
L is B= Life is Beautiful
MOT= Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance
Religious School= Jewish Religious School
RK= Ruth Kluger
SL= Schindlerís List
USHMM= United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [in Washington D.C.]

Introduction

While many conclusions were ascertained from close analysis of these four subjects, it is important to remember that these girls do not represent typical college freshmen. The conclusions drawn here reflect a biased subject group, as all of the volunteers had past Holocaust-related educational experience, including hearing survivors and visiting museums. Two of the girls interviewed, Celia and Joanna, had many years of Jewish schooling and may well know more about the Holocaust than I do.

Analysis

What first struck me while I was analyzing these interviews was how similar each girlís answers were. Each of them had gone through the California High School system. Although regionalized, Celia and Lauren both hailing from Southern California and Annie and Joanna Northern, their experiences show that the education was pretty universal. All of them had had US and World History and none of the High school curriculum dealt with the holocaust. Moreover, all of these girls went on school-sponsored Museum trips, and, except for Celia, they each went on the Nationís capital trip, where they visited the National Holocaust Museum. What was the most striking about this was the fact that none of the schools gave much background before taking the students to the museum. Overall, I believe that can be said about everything. That is to say, the students never received adequate background for all their exposure to the Holocaust at school. Whether it was a museum, a speaker, or even a Hollywood film, it seems all of the girls went not really knowing what to expect. While I feel this can be beneficial in some ways, in general it is not the best approach. Annie feels that background "helps make it more tangibleÖyou go through things so quickly that itís nice to [have] some background on it" (Annie, Pre Interview). Background is especially important when it comes to dealing with oral testimony. For example, after conducting follow up interviews with Celia and Lauren, I found that by reading Ninaís Letter to the Young People, the students had clear knowledge of Ninaís factual experiences, so it was not necessary to become hung up on details. As Lauren said, "it was really powerful [because] we got to read her story ahead of time, so it wasnít like she was [just] telling her story" (Lauren, Post Interview). However, Celia felt that "it helped [to read some background], but there is nothing like hearing it from her mouth. Itís not just like one story, itís not just the story of her life, itís like every little thing is a new story" (Celia, Post Interview). Both of these quotes make one thing very clear, nothing can compare to an authentic speaker.

When it comes to hearing a speaker, all four girls agreed that the small classroom setting is ideal. Lauren mentioned, "we were just having a discussion with her since it was so smallÖso it seemed really personal, like she was just having a conversation with us" (Lauren, Post Interview). Celia really enjoyed "the fact that the students in the class could ask questions and not feel like theyíre in such an auditorium-like setting [where] nobody would raise their hand and ask a question becauseÖthatís just embarrassing" (Celia, Post Interview). When Joanna heard speakers in her religious school, "[there] were like 14 people so we also could have questions," unlike the large auditorium setting where she heard Ruth Kluger talk (Joanna, Pre Interview).

The large auditorium settings serve one main purpose, to allow a multitude of people to hear the survivorís message. However, this requires a speaker who is semi-professional, or at least comfortable enough to speak to such large crowds. When Celia reflected on the many speakers she has heard, she said, "All their stories are amazing, they all speak very well" (Celia, Pre Interview). Likewise, Lauren thought her previous speaker was "really professional. I think she actually had worked with the Museum of Tolerance in L.A.Öit seemed like she had spoken before" (Lauren, Post Interview). Sadly, much of the emotion is lost when experienced speakers retell their stories, as Lauren followed up with, "It was really impersonal" (Ibid.). Celia feels that:

"[S]ome speakers talk with not as much emotions as other ones. I was listening to Ruth Kluger talk last quarter and she was pretty calm and talked about the whole process she went through, she didnít go into the gory details or anything [Ö] itís bad, but I think the gory details have more impact and are emotional, powerful. But everything else is powerful too, its just different styles of speakers. Some people donít like to get so involved in that because itís so hard to talk about." Celia, Pre Interview

Lauren expands this notion when comparing Nina to the other survivor she heard, "Even though I had talked to a survivor it wasnít as personal at all, just because it was so big" (Lauren, Post Interview).

All of the girls had also read Holocaust related literature, the standard two being Elie Wieselís Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. While these are powerful narratives in themselves, books do not seem to compare to authentic speakers.

"Youíre reading something and itís just like Ďokay, this is someoneís story, but who is this person?í It just seems so distant. Itís still interesting to read and you still take a lot out of it, but just hearing an actual speaker is so much more powerful, itís an actual person. Youíre seeing them, and seeing their emotions while their telling the story, itís hard, but I think you just really get more of a feel for what it was really like and just trying to understand what it would have been like to be her. I think you learn a lot more actually talking to someone." Lauren, Post Interview

"Itís different when itís coming out of someoneís mouth, and you have to look at them and know they went through it. Itís not just a distancingÖlike reading a book, which are powerful on their own, but when you have to see someone itís I think more striking." Annie, Pre Interview

"I think with books you can take the time and try to figure out what they are trying to tell you, and figure out what they are trying to get across, but when you hear a speaker itís right in your face. Theyíre telling you something that happened to them, and you can see who they are, youíre not just reading their name and reading the details." Joanna, Pre Interview

On the other hand, Celia likes "to read more, because I can really take my time and read every word of it and remember it, and go over it if I want to. Speaking out, when I went to hear speakers, itís a real learning experience, but I like to read it because it sinks in more" (Celia, Pre Interview). However, Celia accurately points out that a blend of reading and hearing testimony is the best:

"When you study history about something so far away, and you canít really put a face to what you are reading about [Ö] and envisioning, but it really helps paint a picture and say, Ďokay, these are real people that were there. Theyíre not all dead. This is our generation. Weíre the last generation that is going to be able to hear this.í" Celia, Pre Interview

Celiaís quote ends with a very interesting notion that I, along with my other interviewees, was not really aware of. The individuals that went through the Holocaust are passing away. All of the speakers the girls had heard where children when they went through the horrors of the Holocaust. Soon my questions comparing different speakers or contrasting books to speakers will be completely irrelevant. There will one day be no survivors left to share with us their amazing oral testimonies. As Celia has said, "itís really important to hear as many as you can, because we are the last generationÖ" (Celia, Pre Interview).


analysis by Jeremy Garsha, March 2003, prepared for web 6/11/03
part of the UCSB Holocaust Oral History Project (homepage, Oral History main page)