JUNE 15, 2017: As the nation investigates an elaborate corruption that has ties to its highest offices, the term testimony has been broadcast far and wide—in print, over wires and airwaves, and in countless individual conversations.
A testimony is a story in one’s own words, a formal telling of one’s experience, a public account of an event or condition in order to clarify, illuminate, or prove its existence.
A testimony roots broad events, currents, and conditions in utterances of a single human being, moments of recounting words, gestures, and impressions.
JUNE 1, 2017: I write this on Thursday, June 1, 2017. A couple of weeks ago, I watched the first five minutes of my great uncle’s testimony to the USC Shoah Foundation about his experiences leading up to, during, and after the Holocaust.
I watched only five minutes because I knew that seeing my Uncle Steve’s animated face for the first time after his death nearly four years ago would be hard.
I watched only five minutes because I knew his testimony involved some of the worst inhumanity a human being can know on this Earth, and even decades removed from the actual events, just the hearing of it is hard.
Soon, I’ll watch the next few minutes, and incrementally, the entire recording, diving deep into listening and writing.
But in those first five minutes of the video, I saw the smile that spread wide across Uncle Steve’s face on July 3, 1996, when the interviewer asked him to describe his hometown of Svalava, which changed hands multiple times during his lifetime, from Czechoslovakia to Hungary to Germany to Soviet Ukraine, and now, since the fall of the U.S.S.R., independent Ukraine.
In that spontaneous smile, I saw the joy he felt before the horror, a joy broken by some of the worst of human cruelty. I saw the vestiges of the boy he once was, innocent of life’s potential brutality, lighthearted and happy.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll record here my thoughts and experiences related to researching and writing this book about my great uncle. Some of it will be directly relevant to his story, and some indirectly, but all will relate to him and the world events and conditions surrounding his life.
As I watch the rest of his testimony, I’ll note the look in his eye, the intonation of his voice, and the words he used to reconstruct a story he likely would have preferred to forget, but that, nevertheless, he told and preserved, generously.
JUNE 15, 2017: As I pursue this story quietly at my desk, a loud and outrageous drama is unfolding in this nation and across the globe. Its magnitude threatens many things, among them our individual truths, which easily could be stymied by fear, shock, and overwhelm. We must remember to continue to be who we are, to testify to our own lives, to uphold true words of real experience.
I believe it’s our own true voices and those of our ancestors that will awaken us to who we are and to the best of who we can be as a people and as a species.