By Alexis Herr
In Kuzmino Chronicles: Memoirs of Teenage Holocaust Survival author Dr. Nathan C. Moskowitz shares the story of his parents Holocaust saga as told in their own words. I had the good fortune to ask Dr. Moskowitz about his experience interviewing his parents, conducting research, and compiling Kuzmino Chronicles. Given the richness of his responses, I have decided to publish our interview in three posts. Part I can be found here. In ” Part II: A Discussion of Holocaust Testimony and Memory with Dr. Moskowitz” Dr. Moskowitz shares his thoughts on how the extinction of an already dwindling survivor community might impact Holocaust memory for generations to come.
Q: In reading your book, I was grateful for your decision to leave your parents’ testimony unfiltered, unedited, and intact. What influenced your decision to do so?
I believe that biographical authenticity is vital to the transmission of history especially with respect to the Holocaust. The people who lived through this turbulent epoch, and experienced its brutality firsthand are in the best position to accurately convey their perceptions by speaking naturally and spontaneously. Their linguistic inflections, their tones, their Yiddish accents, their grammatical imperfections -all speak volumes of their origins, their traumatic journeys, and their immigrant experiences.
Any filtering or editing of their testimony would not reflect their true selves. That is to say, if I had doctored their language and grammar, then one could legitimately have asked, were their recollections also doctored? Were their testimonies embellished? Were their memoirs over-dramatized in order to create a readable novelistic story that sacrifices truth on the alter of slick literary aesthetic entertainment?
By leaving their language intact, their historical recollections remain fresh, pungent and unadulterated thereby conveying eternal truths. Unfortunately Holocaust denial is rampant despite the fact that the Holocaust is the most thoroughly documented genocide in the annals of history both by the perpetrators and by their victims. I would hope that when people read my parents’ memoirs they feel as though they are in the company of two very real and genuine people, and not in the presence of ghost writers or editors diluting the natural power and authenticity of their simple voices with faux linguistic sophistication.
Q: In your Introduction, you stress the importance of recording the stories of “ordinary Jews” in order to honor forgotten victims who exist only in the minds of the few remaining survivors. In your opinion, how will the absence of survivors alter the memory of the Holocaust?
I think the absence of survivors will negatively impact the memory of the Holocaust. I say this because the Holocaust in my parent’s lifetime has already become mythologized (in every direction), romanticized, denied, and inappropriately analogized. Survivors can be relied upon to apply appropriate checks and frames of reference. For example, when my father hears or reads inaccurate descriptions or analogies of the Holocaust, he usually fumes, and says “that’s a pile of B.S. they don’t know what they’re talking about… That was impossible that it happened in such and such a way”.
Despite the fact that we have innumerable historical records and memoirs, when there are no more Holocaust survivors, who will provide these reality checks? We will be left with historical documentation whose accuracy is based on the reliability of the historians who record it. That is why it is imperative that the Holocaust survivors who are still alive should pen their memoirs while they still can, so that they can be referred to in the future for these reality checks.