By Istvan Javor and Katalin Gyarfas
It has always been important in any era, in any society and for any community to make younger generations acquainted with the past of the community they belong to. It is an old experience that the knowledge of a community’s past strengthens the emotional ties to that community. The students of the Lauder Javne Jewish Community School in Budapest use the most ancient, best method to get to know the community’s past: they ask questions from the older generations, they make them talk about the past.
This is the so-called oral history. They ask their grandparents’ generation about the historical eras where they spent their childhood, their early adulthood. One of these eras is the most traumatic era of 20th century European history, the time of national socialism, fascism, the second World War and the Holocaust. The students - with the help of their teachers – make video interviews with the elderly survivors. The creative community, which is made up of students and teachers, then edits the recorded interviews, complements them with archive films and photographs, and hands over the thus prepeared documentaries with pleasure to schools in Hungary and abroad for educational purposes.
Our students have been making interviews with Holocaust survivors for 15 years, ever since the creation of our school. Due to the nature of the school, the first interviewees were usually family members, grandparents and other close relatives. The students often talked to the lonely inhabitants of the hospices of the Budapest Jewish community. The first interviews were made with a tape recorder, the students wrote them down, edited and published them in the literary yearbook of the school, often with translation into English or German. The practice in interviewing thus gathered served as a basis for the later video interviews. Most of our interviewees still come from the acquaintances of our school community. Most of them are persecutees of the Holocaust, but we also made interviews with the saviors of the persecutees and with passive bystanders of the era. Our interviewees are above seventy, and our students are aware of how important and urgent it is to hear and record the personal historical experience of the older generation.
We would like to emphasize our interesting experience that the interview itself – with young people as interviewers – has a therapic effect on the elderly survivors of the Holocaust. The generation of the grandchildren, the third generation may learn things that the second generation has not been told. Our interviewees feel that by sharing their experience in the form of video interviews they leave a heritage for the next generations. The students who participate in the project are aware of this, and thus do their work with responsibility and careful attention. This in one of the important moral values that enrich them during the project, but of course their historical knowledge also becomes deeper, and at the same time they get to know the elements of the different techniques of film- and interview making, and they acquire practice in creative work done in a work community.
- Creation of the crew, division of work, preparation for the interview
After choosing our interviewee and agreeing on a date, we create the crew. The crew usually contains 2 or 3 students and two teachers. One teacher helps with the technical realisation of the film, the other helps with interviewing. We work with two cameras: with a steady camera during the whole time of the interview, and from time to time with a moving camera that we primarily use for showing the scene of the interview. We usually make the interview in the home of the interviewee. All students – including the one behind the camera – may ask questions, but in any case there is one student who has only this task. The teachers only help with the questions if it is really necessary, as one of the most important aims is to ask the questions following the students' line of thinking. Of course the students prepare for the interview with the help of the teachers: they review the historical data, discuss the main information on the interviewee, discuss the first questions, and they learn that questions are not the only important things: they have to pay intensive attention to the interviewee.
The recording of one life interview takes 3-3.5 hours. We rarely take a break, as our interviewees usually like to keep up the continuity of story-telling.
- Editing - transforming the interview into a documentary
The aim of this work phase is to make a film of the several hours long interview which is not too long to be used in the school framework. Usually the members of the crew participate in the editing work, but new students, interested in computer film editing, may also join them.
- Preparation of Editing
Having watched the material shot, we formulate together the main message of our film. Then we prepare the script, the main lines of editing. The students, with the help of experts, look up contemporary photographs, films, documents in the archives and use them for editing. If necessary, they record certain scenes that are mentioned in the interview.
The editing concept of the film is developed on the basis of the discussion of the students and teachers of the whole project group. Then the students, familiar with computer technology, willingly and relatively quickly learn to edit the interview made with digital technology, and they like to do the editing themselves. Of course they regularly consult the teachers and experts leading the project. Subtitles and, if necessary, narration and musical background are inserted at the end of editing, during postproduction works.
The school presentation of the documentary is always a ceremonial, moving event because the interviewee, the elderly main character of the film also participates. We remain in touch after the presentation, a deep friendship has developed between several interviewees and interviewers. If there is a chance for the film to be presented in other Hungarian schools, we write guidelines for teachers.
Our first documentary, „Lili and Anikó”, is based on a video interview recorded in 1999. The interview was made in Budapest with two elderly ladies. In the winter of 1944 the persecuted Anikó, her sister and their mother took refuge in Lili’s house. Until February 1945, Lili hid others in her house as well. The two ladies, the persecutee and the savior, tell the story of those months. The film has been shown at several international Holocaust education conferences, on TV programs in Hungary and abroad, and it has been used in Hungarian and foreign schools as an educational material.
From that time on quite a lot of video interviews has been made by our student team and there are several ones also which were and will be published in Hungarian and English in the framework of an other student project of our school: „Personal History”.
The video interview projects of our school have been supported by the following institutions during the years:
L.A. Pincus Jewish Education Fund for the Diaspora, Conference on Jewish Material Claims – Rabbi Israel Miller Fund, International Task Force Foundation for Holocaust Education
School: Lauder Javne Jewish Community School Budapest/ Hungary