The team, the witnesses, the method
It has been 5 days since I’ve left the team. 5 days since I came back to France. I miss Oksana, David, Alexis, Jordi, Renata, Olga and Andrej. I miss the field; I miss Ukraine. Each morning, I look at the weather report to see what the weather will be like in the Kotovsk Region. A hard return to daily life. The intensity of the research trips, that is the reason. On Saturday, May 21, the day of my departure, I had the opportunity to visit Odessa. David had enthusiastically advised me: “You’ll see, Odessa is a true ruby poised in the middle of the steppe.”
I would like to end my last post with two reflections on the witnesses and the method of Yahad-In Unum (YIU).
I was impressed by the kindness of the witnesses. They live in great poverty and welcomed us into their homes even though there were 7 of us: the team leader, the two translators, the note-taker, the photographer, the cameraman and myself. We invade the apartment with video material; we place a microphone on the witness, we film him, we photograph him, we question him sometimes for 1 hour, sometimes for more than 2 hours. And in the face of it, a single reaction: a smile, then the account of the horrors of the 20th century (a trauma lived through as a child or an adolescent). At the end of the interview, every witness agrees to his or her testimony being made public. Everyone still maintains their smile, even though we have revived their worst memories. The humility of each witness, despite their poverty, invokes the greatest respect.
“Holocaust of proximity” wrote Pierre Laborie to define the mass shootings in Eastern Europe. For reasons of clarity, Yahad-In Unum uses the expression “Holocaust by bullets.” After this field experience, I would describe it as the proximity of the Holocaust for the members of the YIU teams. We are in this history at the ground level, on the field, on the same sites of the massacres. Body, place, word. Ahead of each trip, a team researches the German archives and the investigations of the Soviet Commission. We cross-reference the written archives with one another, we cross-reference the testimonies with the archives, we cross-reference the oral testimonies with one another, we cross-reference the oral and written sources with the places. YIU’s historical method is one of confrontation with the sources: the archives, the witnesses, the places. YIU is not afraid to rely on the field to contribute to the enrichment of Holocaust history. YIU leads a race against the clock to collect the words of the last eyewitnesses of the massacres. There is a feeling of pride in contributing to this historical task.