Although I have spoken at many conferences to many audiences wanting to hear Holocaust stories, recently I spoke to an audiences that was quite different from any I have known before. Recently I traveled to Kiev as part of a small delegation, visiting communities in Ukraine where I shared Jewish stories with entirely new audiences: Ukrainians anxious to hear about the Jews who once lived, and then died, in their country. In each location, I also led memorial services at mass graves after mass grave–with local Jewish residents whose family members had been murdered in there.
Though most of my presentations deal specifically with The Last Album research and photos, because this was the 18th year since my mother’s death, I chose to share, in the Ukrainian, stories from her unpublished memoir. Many of the Ukrainians had tears in their eyes as they listened to me recount her experience of being the only person to emerge alive from a mass grave of 2500 people. And many, including the older man below, made a point to tell me they will never forget my mom, the Jewish girl in the pit.
[ABOVE: Ann with Dr. Anatoly Podolsky, historian and director of Ukrainian Holocaust Center, whose family was murdered, together with 33,000 other Jews, at Babi Yar (just outside of Kiev, Ukraine]
[BELOW, Ann with man who said he would never forget. Note: the floral headdress had been given to Ann as a gesture of friendship from a Ukrainian teacher and her students]
Since I left the Ukraine, I have received notes from people I met. The note from our translator, Tanya who lives in Lviv, is particularly telling. She confided that most of her friends, educated people in their forties, for the most part, seemed to know nothing at all about the Holocaust. As she explained, she was trying to remember, word for word, what she learned from me. Here follows an excerpt from her most recent note:
“Your story about your mom impressed me so much. I tell it to my friends again and again. I see everything in my imagination , in front of my eyes…”
[ABOVE: Tanya and Ann, in flowers.]
Although the trip may be finished, its impact is not, and I hope the learning will continue for a long time to come.
[ABOVE: Ukranian native costume. Ann in purple shirt.]