The Human Spirit is Indestructible

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 10:45am

The communications team, from left: Rob Kuznia, Deanna Hendrick, Josh Grossberg, Holly Blackwelder, Robin Migdol, Jeffrey Langham

Through testimony I have realized that the human spirit is indestructible.

For the last four years, I have had the incredible opportunity to share the story of USC Shoah Foundation. I joined the communications team in July 2013 to manage the social media accounts for the Institute. I was excited to work at such an esteemed institution that was making a difference in the world. In my interview, I knew it was fate for me get the job because my high school was featured in the about video.  This was the only personal connection I had to USC Shoah Foundation.

Interacting with the testimony of genocide survivors in the Visual History Archive has changed me as a person, my outlook on life and how I view the world. Working there was one of the most important and influential periods of my life.

I have always been an empathetic person and interested in human rights. I attended a genocide and human rights conference in college, visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and read books from survivors of genocides and mass atrocities. I learned from each of these experiences, but none had impacted me the way testimony has.

During my first month at the Institute – before I created the social media marketing strategy and started creating content for our social media channels – I watched a lot of testimony. I would come home and share the heartbreaking stories to my now husband, who after a few weeks asked me to stop sharing. And he had a point.

I was enthralled with the personal stories of the Holocaust and kept thinking over and over again how would I survive if that happened to me? What if I was Renee Firestone and never saw my little sister again? What if I was Freddy Muntugua listening to my mother being killed in Rwanda? What if I was put on a train and sent away from my family? What if I was persecuted because of my religion? Over and over again I thought this.

However, that is not the purpose of testimony. I have learned the true power of testimony is listening to stories of persecution and hatred and learning how to stand up to injustice. Also, most importantly in testimony you find moments of heroism, justice, sacrifice, love, humor, resistance and resilience.

In addition to watching testimony I have had the pleasure of getting to know and work with many survivors including Paula Lebovics, Celina Biniaz and many others.

Paula’s famous words “silence is not an option” have certainly struck a chord with me and because of her testimony and friendship I have been inspired to stand up to injustice. I will never forget having dinner with Celina her family and the communications team the night before the 70th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz. I walked with Celina and her family to her old apartment in Krakow, where the Nazis rounded up her and her family. It was also in Poland at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz where I finally realized the true power and reason of testimony. Not only is testimony to document and preserve the eyewitness accounts of genocide, but to showcase how the human spirit cannot be destroyed.  The survivors in the Archive lived their lives after genocide despite losing family members, sometimes their entire family and barely escaping death themselves. However, many survivors moved to new countries, learned new languages, had families, developed careers and told their stories.

Survivor and dedicated volunteer George Weiss visits the Institute every Thursday morning and shares stories of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who live all over the world. 

George and the other 55,000 voices in the Visual History Archive demonstrate that no matter how hard hatred tries to destroy human beings, it cannot destroy their spirit. This is what I have learned and will take away from my time at USC Shoah Foundation.  

Even though I am leaving the Institute to raise my newborn son, testimony has completely changed my life and I will continue to share the power of testimony on social media (on my personal accounts now), with family and friends and one day with my son when he is old enough.

I am so thankful for my time at USC Shoah Foundation. I have grown so much both professionally and personally. Throughout my four years here at the Institute, I married my husband David, received a masters degree from USC, traveled to Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary and had my son, Grayson.

I hope as a mom I can instill in my son the valuable lessons I have learned from survivors and their testimonies. I will make sure he learns the value of empathy, to be tolerant, to never judge a person based on anything but their character and to always stand up to injustice.

This is not only my hope for my son, but honestly for everyone. If we all learned from testimony, this world could truly be a better place. And as I walk away from the offices of USC Shoah Foundation I will always remember the words of Holocaust survivor Roman Kent: “Hate is never right and love is never wrong.”

I hope you are inspired by testimony as it has inspired me to make a difference in the world no matter how small. Remember it beings with you, it #beginswithme.

Deanna Hendrick