Writing Lives is a two-semester project at Langara College, coordinated by instructor Dr. Rachel Mines, in which second-year students are connected with local Holocaust survivors to interview them and write memoirs of their lives before, during and after the Holocaust. The project is a partnership between Langara, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the Azrieli Foundation. In the first semester, students learned about the Holocaust through reading literary and historical texts, and wrote a research paper on prewar European Jewish communities using the resources of the VHEC and Waldman libraries. This semester, students studied practical strategies for interviewing survivors and have conducted and transcribed their interviews. They are now in the process of writing the memoirs, which, when complete, will be presented to interviewees at a closing ceremony to be held at Langara later this spring. As part of their course work, students are keeping journals of their personal reflections on their experiences as Writing Lives participants. A recent journal entry was on the theme of multicultural relationships, and here are excerpts from three student journals.
One of my older relatives knew how to count in Japanese. She was not Japanese. My family is predominantly of Filipino descent. She only learned how to count in Japanese because she was forced to learn as a child, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. I learned this pretty late in her life.
I wanted to ask my relative questions, and I assumed I would get the chance at some point, but I was never sure if it was appropriate to bring it up. Two or three years after I learned that she could count in Japanese, she passed away. I never got to ask my questions.
When I decided to take part in the Writing Lives project, I was thinking of my relative. I have learned that having unanswered questions about someone you care for can lead to painful regret. Because of my own family’s unknown history during the Second World War, I wanted to help another family learn theirs.
– Jonathan Pineda
Some feel sad when they see pain,
Some feel fascinated when they see pain.
Some feel broken
Once they see a broken heart.
Some feel fire
And mock that broken heart.
Some reach out a hand
Only to say “got you man.”
Some reach out a hand
Only to say “let me help you man.”
Some are inwards
Some are outwards.
Some love to inflict pain.
Some love to inflict love.
Some grab a gun.
Some grab a seed.
Some ignite a fire.
Some extinguish the fire.
There are always two sides to a story,
Whether good or bad it has a history.
Where do these people come from?
I used to ask.
They come from us,
They used to answer back.
Now I stand with a shattered heart.
Now I stand with a broken back.
Seeing is something.
Hearing is intriguing,
Both are fascinating,
The hearts are something.
– Mojtaba Arvin
I have listened to survivors tell their stories a few times before. Two survivors visited my school when I was in high school, and we had a couple of survivors come to our Writing Lives class last semester. Those were really the only encounters I had with the stories of Holocaust survivors. My family is not Jewish, and were not persecuted during the Holocaust.
My paternal grandfather and his father emigrated from southern Russia in 1925 to
escape the persecution and violence they were facing because they were Mennonites, but we have no personal family experience of the Holocaust or anything that the Jewish people endured. Because I could not bring my own perspective to this course, I am lucky that I had an amazing partner who was able to bring insight into many things because of her Jewish background. Overall, this project has been really incredible. My two partners are so supportive, and I have had the most amazing experience interviewing alongside them and writing the draft memoir with them. This is a project that I will remember my entire life.
– Caylie Warkentin