The Last Survivor: Family Trees
This blog picks up where the last one left off – in the Swedish countryside with Hédi. At the end of the “welcoming” tour she offered upon our arrival at her quaint home – a charming yellow cottage nestled against the Baltic Sea – Hédi lead us to the living room. She put on her favorite radio station and affirmed their selection of a lulling classical violin piece with a nod, “Nice.” With that, she lead us to the corner of the room, behind her favorite reading chair, where she had framed a family tree her son had made her for an earlier birthday. Hédi introduced us to the family. It began at the top with her parents, splitting out into two branches – one leading down to Hédi, her husband, their three boys and their wives and the other to Livi, her husband, and their children. Hédi read off the cast of characters that made up her family tree and paused for a moment as she admired it. “This is our victory,” she told us with a smile.
We have found such fondness for family trees common among Survivors.
After three months adjusting to life in St. Louis, Justin was honored to have Sasha in his home. To simply hear Justin welcome Sasha to his house was enough to convey the profound gratitude he will forever hold for all Sasha has done for him. After giving Sasha a tour of his apartment, Justin took him to the neighborhood park where the two sat among children who were enjoying the final dusks of summer. There, Sasha told Justin of his family’s own story of survival: that his great grandmother had fled the Soviet Union nearly a century ago, escaping the deadly pogroms that were targeted at the Jews. That she too had once arrived in America as a refugee and, lost in an unknown land, she dedicated herself to the promise etched in the progression of her family tree. Sasha’s life – his work, his family, his happiness – are linked directly back to his great grandmother – her work, her dedication, and her hope. Sasha stressed this connection to Justin – “and one day you’ll have children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren and they’ll go on to do wonderful things. And you’re the start.”
Justin smiled quietly at this, distantly staring out at the children across the park as if he could see the line that moved from him – a family line that carried his own legacy and gave life to the memory of his missing family. A line that insisted on moving forward.
It’s certainly not surprising that those who have lost so much of their history, would find not only satisfaction, but great pride in the generations that spawn forward from them. If genocide is an attempt at destroying an entire people, then a people’s true triumph over genocide is marked by their ability to endure – to pass on not only their genes, but their values and their stories, ensuring that a piece of their family is woven securely into posterity.
In our eyes, such a notion illuminates our role in life as one of continuation – an all important link between what was and what will be – in a manner that saturates each life with meaning. But perhaps even more moving is the realization that such a perspective on life is one that insists we look forward. That no matter what we are given in this life – whether it be great gain or great loss – we accept that our role remains consistent and simple: to continue. And in doing so, we pass on the many lessons we have acquired – both those born out of our own experience and those bequeathed to us by our ancestors. It is the sum of these collective experiences that make up the future.
This has been, in many ways, a remarkable month. Most days were spent going through the hours of footage we have taken across the span of the last two years. Such a task was a daily exercise in reflection – allowing us to revisit all that we have been through over the course of the past two years – the places, the experiences, and mostly the people. From the start, we set out to make a film about connection – the links that bind our subjects as Survivors and those that bind all of us as human beings. Certainly, we have found many. And as we move on from this 20-minute cut and begin work on the final film, we are certain we will be struck by deeper and more meaningful connections that bind those we film together with one another and with ourselves.
For now, at the end of this month, the most profound connection we have discovered is this: that while we are each born out of distinct pasts, we share a common future. And as that future is the sum of all that has come before, it will be measured by the totality of its inclusiveness – made richer by the inclusion of each of our histories. Our role, then, is to move from one generation to the next, passing on a sense of who we are and from where we have come.
In this manner, we all move forward.
A 20-minute sneak preview of our film, The Last Survivor, will be available via webcast on April 2nd as part of the Genocide Prevention Month kick-off event. We encourage you to hold screenings at your home or at a community center on April 2nd or any time there after. Watch the film and subsequent panel discussion and host your own conversation on genocide awareness and prevention. For more information, please visit the Month’s official website, www.genocidepreventionmonth.org and sign the pledge to honor the six genocides commemorated in April by working to prevent future atrocities. This blog is part six of a multi-part series on survivors of genocides. This blog is posted every Monday and Thursday on Huffington Post and Change.org
While there is no new video clip available with today’s posting – stay tuned for footage from the Genocide Prevention Month Kickoff Event with Thursday’s posting.