First Person: A Glimpse Into the Unimaginable

The Holocaust is remembered as one of the most gruesome and inhumane times in history. The Nazi regime’s orchestrated mass murder of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, people of color, and the disabled is not soon forgotten by those who lived to experience the horrors. While many have read about or have seen images of the struggles, it is difficult to think of this time in history from the perspective of a survivor, and to stomach the realities of their experiences. Luckily, historians, artists, and survivors the like have developed unique ways to tell the stories of these individuals and their experiences through a variety of mediums.

Courtesy of Reading on a Rainy Day

American cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s family were victims of the Holocaust, and his parents were survivors. He knew his father’s stories needed to be brought to light in order to create an informative bridge between the generations in regards to the true realities of the Holocaust. He accomplished this in a creative way. Maus by Art Spiegelman is a graphic novel that tells the story of his father’s experience as a Jew during World War II. Portraying humans as different animals, such as mice and cats, Spiegelman uses cartoons to graphically explain the outstanding hardships and losses in his father’s life in a way that brings his memory to life. The use of images and a modern mode of artistry instead of heavy text makes these experiences accessible to a variety of audiences, and creates a multi-generational understanding of these events.


Courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

While it is impossible to fully comprehend the horrors experienced by the prisoners of the Holocaust, there are many programs, museum exhibits, and other artistic methods that allow us to take a glimpse into the past and learn from it. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is an excellent outlet for sharing these impactful stories. Although they offer a variety of services and programs, I found their First Person: Conversations with Survivors monthly lecture series to be incredibly moving. The First Person: Conversations with Survivors takes place at the museum every Wednesday and Thursday from March to August, and is free to the public. This accessible program is  an hour long and features live interviews between journalist Bill Benson and a Holocaust survivor, followed by a question-and-answer session with the public. [1] These sessions are sometimes live streamed on the museum’s website, but they are always uploaded to theUnited States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s youtube account and and to the First Person podcast series.

Programs and works like Maus and First Person: Conversations with Survivors create a space for dialogue and understanding between survivors and the newer generations. Those who did not experience this time in history first hand will never full comprehend the terror and hardships faced by those that lived to tell the tale. Being able to create dialogue between survivors and the rest of society allows us to view the Holocaust through a human lense, and to put names and faces to the torturous facts. Preserving the stories of these amazing individuals is vital to our global narrative, and to ensure that history does not repeat itself in the future.




One thought on “First Person: A Glimpse Into the Unimaginable

  1. I completely agree with your point about how listening to survivors tell their stories and visual narratives such as Maus are the best way for people who didn’t live through the Holocaust to try and comprehend it. I think we owe a great debt to those survivors who speak at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and other places. It is especially important that the museum is posting conversations with survivors online because there will soon come a time when there will be no more survivors left to speak to people in person. It is important that these stories are preserved because it is incredibly important history that future generations need to learn from so that this never happens again.

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