The following interviews, podcasts and animation are about stories of people who were children or teenagers during the Nazi uprising of the 1930’s. These stories have been sourced from oral history interviews recorded by the New Zealand Jewish Oral History Group. The group has interviewed 98 Holocaust survivors who came to live in New Zealand since the 1990’s. Only some of these people are still alive today.
For those of us who worked on this particular project – we have been moved by the stories told from a child’s perspective. We think that such a project is quite unique in the historic narrative about the Holocaust. This collection of stories looks at what was the experience of a child (and in one case a toddler), in Europe during the Second World War. Themes that have come forth from these narratives are of lost childhood; a safe and secure life interrupted by fear, horror and the unknown. The interviewees recalled the ‘adult talk’. They remembered being told what to do and remembered their parents making plans to keep them safe. The feelings of these children at the time was a mixture of fear of the unknown, anxiety at leaving their parents, leaving their homes and leaving the familiar; mixed with an element of excitement and adventure.
These are stories of children who grew up fast, who were courageous, who had to adapt to a rapidly changing world, and who ultimately endured loss and separation. As adults looking back on their childhood memories and now with the advantage of more knowledge, and hindsight they can reflect on the fears of their parents and of courage of their parents. As adults they have sought to put together the pieces of their own jigsaw – to seek answers to their own questions about what happened to their parents, friends, and relatives.
All the people interviewed found their way to New Zealand- arriving at different times, either during the war, just after or within a few years after. Some had contacts here already, others did not.
There are many images in these narratives that allow us (the appreciative audience) to imagine for ourselves what it might have been like. In this animation piece we have tried to bring to life the safe environment of the children’s early life with family in Europe, their memories of places, sights, sounds that were important to each child.
Then we’ve shifted into the increasing turmoil they faced, looking to their parents for guidance, seeing terrible things happen in their communities, hearing stories and terrible language from people they knew in their neighbourhoods or the other children they went to school with. The turmoil increased and with it the beauty of their familiar world became strange, damaged, and ugly.
The security of their childhood was replaced with a dreaded fear of the unknown; the foreign. Nothing made sense, life was to be endured. Their own sense of self and identity was uncertain, pain was tolerated, and loss was inevitable. And yet there was solidarity between the Jewish children that could not be broken. These were shared experiences. They have given some comfort and reassurance in adult years - that it is okay to share their stories.
From an animation perspective, it was important that the verbal narratives of the survivors were foregrounded, and that the images and movement within the animation did not overwhelm the survivors’ personal recounting of their experiences. A contemplative pace has been adopted, so that a viewer/listener is hopefully transported into the past through the layers of images, movement, sound, and verbal recollection. The multi-media nature of the animation intentionally evokes diaries, photo albums, the aesthetics of Berlin life in the 1930s, and the different pre-war worlds inhabited by the six voices whose memories movingly constitute the soundscape, together with the upheaval that was experienced by the survivors as their worlds fell apart.
Image Header (above:) 'Grandparents' illustration by Miriam Harris © JoM