Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The Importance of Memoirs: Q&A with Fanya Gottesfeld Heller
Holocaust survivor and Museum Trustee Fanya Gottesfeld Heller is a generous supporter of Holocaust education. This year, the 11th Annual Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Conference for Educators looks at the use of memoirs and diaries in teaching history. Elizabeth Edelstein, Director of Education, sat down with Fanya to talk about her memoir “Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs.”
What motivated you to write your memoir?
We have to appreciate and accept our differences. When we don’t know each other, there is a lack of trust, there is suspicion. This breeds hate and brings intolerance. It is also important to me to leave the message to our children and grandchildren to save them from becoming bystanders or perpetrators. I also wrote it to show that we didn’t go like sheep to the slaughter; to show that we fought even in impossible, treacherous circumstances. I wanted to explain things to my children. My children knew some things about me but not everything. I wanted to explain to them why I did some things when they were growing up and why I didn’t do others. Children of survivors don’t have it easy.
Was there anything unexpected that resulted from writing your memoir?
Originally I didn’t even want to publish the memoir and it ended up I am teaching and loving it. I found out that I have a rapport with teenagers. I was their age during the Holocaust. I feel like if I help even one person, I am doing something worthwhile.
Do you recommend that young people keep journals?
Yes. I kept a journal for a long time. Journals are helpful because you can look back and see things you did, things you wanted to do and didn’t, mistakes you made. It is a way to reflect. It’s also a place to reveal your inner thoughts in a way you can’t do in other places.