When reviewing the interviews we conducted with our elderly Holocaust survivors, we were struck time and again at how vivid their stories became when they recalled that very first incident of antsemitism, when they were bullied in class, browbeaten by other students, humiliated by someone in authority.
In the case of every one of these interviews, they would go on to face situations that were infinitely worse—horrible even in some cases. Yet everyone remembered, in graphic detail, the first time when the ground was pulled from under them, when they felt they have no place to turn, when they realized that the people they looked up to most in the world, their parents, were as powerless as they were.
Oral historians call such remembrances flashbulb memories, which almost always contain a strong element of surprise and are usually quite graphic in their detail. As you will read in the first section of this collection, this is quite an accurate description.
“Even today, I share this story with all children who have also been kicked out of school—for whatever reason.”
“I still remember those creeps and the humiliation I felt at that moment, and will remember it till the end of my days.”
“I still remember that moment, the way I felt, my eyes streaming with tears from the warmth he demonstrated.”
“That is when I realized that my own father couldn’t help me, that the man I respected the most was powerless in the face of hate.”
“Suddenly all the boys my age turned their backs on me, and refused to talk with me at all.”
“It was that first awful incident that burned a hole in me.”
“It transforms everything into fear, there's always that fear, that neurosis that something bad would happen.”
“And in that chasm lived their hate.”
“Calling names like that—it was awful.”