The email wasn’t so different from many others I’ve received since I started working at the USC Shoah Foundation last summer.
A woman named Olga in Germany was moved by watching survivor Paula Lebovics talk about her stolen childhood during the Holocaust. Olga had a young daughter of her own and felt an immediate bond with Paula, who was taken to Auschwitz when she was the same age. And so she wanted to contact her.
It’s an understandable request – watching testimony in the Visual History Archive can be a life-changing experience. But more than 50,000 people in dozens of countries gave testimony to the USC Shoah Foundation nearly 20 years ago. It would be impossible for us to keep tabs on them.
But if the woman couldn’t reach Paula directly – to thank her for her testimony and to promise she would raise her young daughter in a home filled with love and respect for others – Olga at least could share her feelings with me.
What I didn’t know at the time is that Paula not only resides in Los Angeles, but in fact, lives just a few miles away from me. Finding her turned out to be a simple matter of asking around the office, where Paula has volunteered over the years.
I reached out to her. We traded emails. We spoke. When we met a few weeks later, she gave me a big hug. She was delighted to hear about Olga and would be more than happy to speak to her.
The two of them have shared emails and have begun taking the first steps of friendship. And, in addition to meeting Paula, I’ve now spent several hours having some very heartfelt conversations with Olga.
It’s an important reminder that the Visual History Archive is more than a large collection of tapes. It’s real people telling real stories that will never lose their relevance. That it can be the catalyst to connect people across the globe speaks to its power to affect positive change in the world.
It’s amazing to me that of all the survivors that have been interviewed in so many countries, Olga happened to find one that lives in my neighborhood. It’s wonderful that the two of them have started sharing their thoughts. And I’m inspired to know that I was able to be a part of it --and that I’ve made two new friends in the process.