Why a CD like this and why now?
This is a project that, you know, there’s been a lot of things done on the Holocaust, obviously. Everyone knows that. But nothing has been done in audio, that you can get in the store. This is a project that people can use in their cars, listening to while they travel. They can use it for educational purposes.
It’s an audio documentary, and the amazing thing about audio is that it allows you to use your imagination. Video fills your mind and fills your imagination with the images, where audio allows you to imagine images that you experience in your life. So you can put in images from your memory, and it becomes much more close to you, it becomes much more intimate of an experience because you’re imagining things you went through yourself.
The bottom line is that the owner of Rhino Entertainment wanted to do the project. And the reason why Rhino’s doing it is because it’s a little more acceptable now for survivors to tell their stories. It’s a little more acceptable to, for survivors to open up completely and to tell their honest story of what happened in the Holocaust.
For many years, it was very painful for people and they hid it. In the last 10, 15 years, as people are getting older and they’re dying off, the people that still remain behind, the survivors that still remain behind have realized that they need to tell their story now. Even though it might be painful to bring up, because there’s so much to learn from what the experiences were in the Holocaust, that they feel they have to pass it on.
Tell me about the people involved in the project.
It was a long process and when the Jewish Federation Of Los Angeles came to me to do the project, I knew it was going to be a very long, involved project. They have a museum there and so they have survivors who are part of this organization. So those people became kind of the core people that I started with. And they had done interviews for the last five years before I became involved, they had already done many interviews. So I used those as some of my basic beginning material. That being said, there, I wanted to go deeper than what those interviews did. I wanted interviews that talked about the philosophy of the war, the philosophy of life. What can we learn from this.
I wanted to hear as many stories as I could about their childhood. What life was like before the war started, before they were thrown out of their homes into the ghettos, before they were thrown from the ghettos to the camps. And I wanted to know what life was like, Jewish life. So, I interviewed much more in depth than what they had. I spent four hours with each person usually, interviewing them. And often they would reach points to tell stories that they had never told before. So it was a really powerful experience for me and for, a great honor that they would allow me into their lives.
Once you had this material, how did you edit?
I took each interview and I went over it very carefully, picking out the very most powerful parts. The idea was to create an overall experience based on the parts of each person. It wasn’t to tell one person’s story entirely by itself as a unit. But to intercut all the different interviews into a dramatic journey. And that’s what we’ve done with Voices Of The Shoah.
How was it for you to interview those people as a Jew and did you feel any hate [toward Germans] while doing these interviews?
Well, I guess the best thing is to quote a survivor because they put their feelings so much better than me a lot of the time with dealing with these issues. One of the survivors who’s on the CD set said to me, “You know, I don’t hate the Germans that are there today. Because they didn’t do anything to me. What I hate is the people who did these things to me, often it’s their grandparents. So those are the people that did something to me.”
Did I feel hate toward the Germans? It’s a very difficult question obviously, I don’t hate the people today at all. But when I see an older German, I have to wonder, when I see an older German today, if when I’m in Berlin, I don’t hate that person but I do wonder what their history was.
I wonder if they were involved and what side they’re on or what experiences they had during World War II. When I was in Berlin I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was at the Berlin Film Festival and it was an amazing experience a few years ago. And people came up to me to learn about what it meant to be Jewish because they’re very curious. And one person came up to me, right at the beginning of the festival and said something very strange which I’ll never forget, someone I didn’t even know, just came up to me out of the blue and said, you’re Jewish.
I wasn’t wearing a yarmulkah, I wasn’t wearing this. And I was shocked. I said, yeah, what’s the point, you know, why are you saying this? She said, “Oh I can tell faces and you look Jewish to me.” I don’t deny that I have something that people would say is a Jewish face but still for the person to go to me out of the blue and say that, was quite surprising. They weren’t doing it to be mean, they were doing it to be friendly.
What was for you the hard part doing these interviews or what were some experiences from the whole project?
Great question. I had one very intense experience which was over a course of about a week I had organized six interviews, to do six interviews. I’m used to doing a lot of interviews at one time and I thought, no problem, so one each day over six days. Four hour interviews, I’d have plenty of time for lunch and dinner and these things. Each interview was so intense, I didn’t expect this to happen to me but after the six interviews I had, I started having these nightmares–intense nightmares.
And I didn’t connect it at first. I put it together, that the nightmares were because of these interviews. These intense interviews were causing my psyche to go through this extreme experience. And so I had to back off on a number of interviews I was doing.
How did the people react when you asked them to be interviewed?
Yeah, sometimes you do have difficulty getting people to open up and to want to open up. And those are the people whose interviews are not on the CD. Sometimes people say they have nothing to say but once you talk to them for an hour and they begin to trust you, they begin to open up. So for example, one of my interviews that I’m thinking of right now, Siegfried Halbreich, he’s very open but the best stuff came, the most deep stuff, the most interesting material came about an hour and an half into his interview. And that lasted maybe 20 minutes.
And most of that’s on the CD. That 20 minute period was the most powerful thing so if I would have cut it out after an hour it would have been a bad interview. But for the most part the survivors who are obviously older now, they want to tell their story because it’s really their last chance. They know, they feel it. And they want to give something over to their grandkids, their kids, that they can say this is my grandfather, this is some of the experiences he had and this is what’s part of me. So they were open for the most part.
How much freedom did you have from Rhino Records?
I was very lucky, amazingly lucky. They gave me more freedom than I’ve ever had I think on any project I’ve ever done. Very kind, giving, interested. They followed it along, gave me advice and it was a beautiful experience working with them. I was shocked. In five years, you know, I gave them a few different drafts of the project and they listened to it and gave me feedback. That’s it. I was looking forward to seeing this being displayed. Every time I’m editing I’m picturing the audience. I’m not doing this for myself.
How will this project be utilized?
Hundreds and thousands of people will listen to this project and grow from it. I would love for radio organizations to play clips because that’s how the best way is to show people what the project’s about is to actually hear pieces because it’s extremely powerful project. I know that people will be effected by it. It’s not only the, the worst that happened but also some of the, the lessons that we can learn from it that we can put into place today, for ourselves. How do we live today, ourselves, how do we live knowing that this happened? What can we learn from it? And how do we use it to make ourselves better people?
How did this project change your life?
It’s an excellent question, how did it change my life? I came into contact with some of the most amazingly powerfully strong people I’ve ever met in my life. These survivors have been through hell and they came out of it and they rebuilt their families. They had children, they remarried, if they lost their spouse in the war, they remarried, they had new kids. They moved to a new country, rebuilt their businesses, learned a new language. So, I got a lot of lessons from them about how to be a strong person, how to persevere.
When you talk to them there’s some kind of a, a strange inner peace that they have. Uh, because they know their limits, they’ve been tested. I hope that by seeing this project people will be inspired themselves in their own lives to be better people too. To know that this happened in the world, it’s a very disturbing thing and I think about it all the time. Do we live in the world that’s evil? Do we live in a world that’s good? And I keep trying to choose the good. I keep trying to choose looking at people and seeing the good in them. And that’s what the survivors all did. They chose to see the good even after all this.
So when I see a survivor and I see a German, I try to see them all for who they are, what they do themselves. Not for what their great grandparents did or what their grandparents did.
In all of the people that I’ve met, their characteristics are in me too. So even in the experience of Nazi Germany that is in me. For better, for worse, those actions that were done, I could have done somehow. I guess it’s possible that I could have been behind the gun instead of in front of it. I try to think of Nazi Germany not as an animal state because they were human beings too.
At the same time, when I see all the horrible things that were done to other human beings, it’s difficult for me to swallow. And I wonder how could that have happened? I’m still not sure. I worked on this project for five years. How old am I? I’m 32. Yeah I was born in 1967 and my parents, my grandparents were born here in the United States. So I’m not a child of the survivor or even a grandchild of a survivor. As a Jewish person I think of all Jewish people as attached together. And what happened to the Jewish people happened to me too.
Do people learn from history?
Individuals learn from history, but as a world civilization, history repeats itself. And all we can do is the best we can to learn from the past because people don’t change, people are the same no matter what millennia it is. It could happen again easily. All the time we hear about events, countries fighting each other, fighting their minority groups and destroying whole communities. We see it all the time.
So one of the questions I always had was how do we live with this? How do we live with the knowledge of this? How can we work to make it as little of an evil world as we can. It’s kind of a frustrating thought sometimes. But it’s reality and you have to see reality the way it is. The survivors went through hell but they came out of it choosing to be hopeful. Most of them, the people I interviewed were hopeful in their lives or they would have killed themselves.
I mean, there’s no other choice. Really, I mean if they saw the world as that evil, then they shouldn’t have continued their life. But they continued and they built families again and hopefully we can get inspiration from them.