The combined efforts of students continents apart will premiere at 7:00 pm Thursday at Northwestern’s Foundation Center Forum.
The Memory Archives aims to preserve stories of Holocaust survivors now living in the Chicagoland area. It is a joint effort between Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the University of Hamburg’s International Media Center.
“Inherently, finding Holocaust survivors is a challenge, just because unfortunately so many have started to pass away,” said sophomore Northwestern student Jesse Kirsch. “And then you’re adding in a couple of very specific requirements—looking for someone from Hamburg who moved to Chicago. That trifecta was a tough challenge for us.”
Kirsch worked with Hamburg student Jan Schacht to produce the story of Holocaust survivor Henry Halle. Halle’s family left his childhood Hamburg home on May 16, 1941, never to return again.
“It was a challenge piecing his story together, because he wasn’t there to help share it with us,” Kirsch said. “I was able to find his daughter and grandson, and by meeting with [them], I was able to get this full picture of his life. That was lucky, finding these people so willing to open up their lives and sharing their family stories with us.”
In speaking with Halle’s daughter, Esther Marcovici, the duo learned about the loving environment Halle was raised in.
“I think that maybe that helped him accept the difficult times when he was a teenager,” Marcovici told Kirsch and Schacht.
Kirsch was one of 20 student journalists on the project, led by Medill instructor Stephan Garnett. Each Northwestern student paired with a Hamburg counterpart.
“I think overall we definitely could not have done the project without them,” said junior Northwestern student Tyler Daswick. “[The German students] really want to understand what happened and understand how it relates to the history of their nation. They really want to reconcile it in a very beautiful way that I don’t think you see in America.”
Daswick worked with Hamburg student Louisa Wittenbecher to tell the story of Adina P. Sella. Read their article.
“We all have a childhood,” Sella told Daswick and Wittenbecher. “They call me a Holocaust survivor. I think it’s not the right [nomenclature]. I am a child of the Holocaust.”
According to The Memory Archives, as a girl, Sella was called Peggy, but because that wasn’t a “proper Jewish name” in Nazi Germany, her family was forced to change it.
“Years and years later, I thought about it,” Sella said. “And I said ‘Adina is very good, and I feel like Adina, but something is missing,’ so I put ‘P’ as my middle initial. So, there was a Peggy, and she is alive.”
Sella, 78, lives in an apartment overlooking Lake Michigan.
“She had such an accessible personality,” Daswick said about Sella. “She was extremely welcoming and open to sharing her story. For me, what was difficult was when you hear this story firsthand. It’s powerful and evocative. I haven’t heard such a story before.”
For Kirsch, with the project now completed, what he took away most from it was its great opportunity for discussion.
“Leading up to the project, we read primary and secondary sources about the camps, but this was my first experience visiting a concentration camp” he said. “To share that experience with the group was pretty unique. I think the great takeaway for the project was about preserving the stories, but at the same time, I think we got just as much out of it, learning from each other along the way.”
Work on The Memory Archives spanned a period of about six months. For the Northwestern students, the process began late last year, when project applications first went out.
“I heard that there would be a sort of cross-cultural exchange where you get to work with a team of German students on a project pertaining to the Holocaust,” said junior Northwestern student Kalina Silverman. “I was really interested, so I applied for it and was selected.”
Silverman and Hamburg student Marie Manu interviewed Amy Santo, her father David Finkel, and her African American son Avila Santo about their family story. Amy is the granddaughter of Sidney Finkel, who fled Hamburg shortly before the Nazi regime took over.
“Because of the Holocaust, I do not feel white,” Santo told Silverman and Manu. “Because if I’m not Aryan enough to be white, so that my ancestors could have been killed in the Holocaust, why am I white now? … In my gut, I feel Jewish. I don’t feel white.”
Watch the video produced by Silverman and Manu.