Learn more about FIBERS: A Play on Memory, Based on Forgetting at www.amyoes.com/FIBERS
This is the last picture I have with my grandmother, April 25,2005.
Hours later, I would be rushed to the emergency room, and my grandparents would be sent home in a cab, back to their house in Brooklyn, New York.
I would never see them again.
As the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, I believe their strength and spirit enabled me to survive my coma and the traumas that followed. In this piece, tentatively called FIBERS, I intend to explore transgenerational trauma and post traumatic growth through multidisciplinary performance. I’ve compiled a collection of oral history interviews with my grandmother’s eight surviving relatives regarding their memories of the Holocaust and immigration narratives after the war from Belgium, to Prague, New York to California, Israel and London.
Some told the same stories, some told different interpretations entirely, and some seemed to pick up where another left off. I became fascinated by the relationship of history and memory, and took on the role of detective, artfully stringing together a family narrative, linking unfinished fragments and filling in gaps in each relative’s story with the anecdotes of others. In doing so, I was able to link the missing pieces and construct an extraordinary journey of my family’s survival, who were also known as one of the largest families to immigrate to New York after the war on one ship.
I then conducted oral histories with the second generation regarding their upbringing, in the homes of survivors, and was struck by how little they knew of their parents’ stories, and their own attitudes towards the Holocaust. Their displaced sense of identity was further contrasted by interviews I conducted with third generation children, who were more driven towards gathering these stories for social justice initiatives.
Learning how my grandparents were first discriminated against in New York tenements, and then went on to establish a thriving garment business, led me to investigate resilience after trauma, and a survivor’s capacity to transform adversity to creative growth. I related this to own journey of survival at 18, also my Grandmother’s age in Auschwitz. I found many parallels with not only her story, but in how I was able to regain faith, resilience, and identity. It was only when I allowed her memory to re-enter my life could I grieve, and move forward, and heal.
I plan to create documentary theatre, fusing monologues curated from 400+ pages of transcribed oral histories and audio recordings, my personal narrative of survival, insights from philosophers, texts and historical archives, and original music in a solo theatre performance exploring how memory is transmitted and communicated after trauma, and what it means to carry on a legacy. I’ve already begun the process, most of the interviews are transcribed. I’m currently working on mid-stage draft, incorporating music, media and art into my work.
My Uncle Morris Schachne sample audio recording:
Read his transcribed Oral History Interviews here
Listen to Part One of my Grandfather’s audio recording:
Listen to Part Two of my Grandfather’s audio recording:
Read this recording, which I’ve completely transcribed, here
Read the full oral histories here.
- After almost losing her own life at 18, a granddaughter seeks to understand her grandmother’s own suffering at 18, as a holocaust survivor, reflecting on the hostility her grandmother was met with after surviving Auschwitz, and the lack of understanding or tolerance for traumatized individuals in society. Unable to live fully when traumatized, the granddaughter yearns to understand how her grandmother felt, even when embraced by family, and seeks to answer how she herself can live a full life after trauma. When does the “other” become the “non-other”, and can it happen to late to ever heal? As she attempts to understand her grandmother, she finds clarity in her own self and healing process, and is able to make her own self less “other”.
- How My Grandmother’s Death Made Me Love Myself Again: (For Wisdom Daily) http://thewisdomdaily.com/grandmothers-death-love/
- Think You’ll Never Trust Again? (for Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-oestreicher/think-youll-never-trust-a_b_12679990.html
- Finding Faith in the ICU: (For On Being with Krista Tippet) https://amyoes.com/2015/08/16/on-being-losing-faith-and-finding-it-again-in-the-icu/
- My Grandmother’s Heroic Immigration Story: (for GLAMOUR Magazine) http://www.glamour.com/story/immigrant-families-ellis-island
- Lost Music Discovered from the Holocaust: (for HowStuffWorks) http://now.howstuffworks.com/2017/03/29/lost-holocaust-survivor-songs-voice-recordings-discovered
- PTSD: The Illness I Couldn’t See: (for Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-oestreicher/ptsd-the-illness-i-couldnt-see_b_8216634.html
Waking up in Surgical ICU, I lost all trust in myself. When I learned my grandmother had died while I was in a coma, I was too numb to cry, and lost trust in the world. When I finally allowed myself to feel, I also allowed her memory to re-entered my life. As I remembered her, I reassembled the “members” and memories of my own life, and rediscovered trust in myself and the world. My mother, who slept by my side in the ICU, went through this journey with me. We form generations of strong women.
And as I learned from these oral histories, there were many strong women even before us.
My Grandma’s Survival
As a skilled seamstress, my grandmother survived the camps when forced by the Nazis to sew their uniforms. Emigrating to Brooklyn, sewing became her livelihood. How is creativity an anchor to oneself, a roadmap through adversity and a lifeline through trauma?
I’ll never know what my grandmother – who was my embodiment of childhood, faith and identity – endured, but I do know what it’s like to feel displaced from identity. Our families, our relationships can serve as the most potent anchors back to ourselves when our world darkens overnight.
I plan on exploring multiple mediums, including music, visual art, genealogy, dance, archived recordings, historical documents, to bring this vivid story to life in innovative ways to bring her spirit to the stage.
- How does trauma pass through generations?
- How does a family recall memory?
- How can piecing together narratives across generation set a spirit free?
The story of my grandmother was published in the GLAMOUR Magazine article, “Immigrant Families Are What This Country Was Built On”, on January 13th, 2017:
“An estimated 40 percent of Americans can trace their lineage through Ellis Island, America’s first federal immigration center. In honor of its 125th anniversary this month, three women—all of whom had family members pass through there—share what their immigrant heritage means to them. The stories they recount here have been pieced together by talking to their family members and through their own research and are accurate to the best of their knowledge.”
“My grandmother immigrated to New York after being released from Auschwitz.”
Isi was born in Antwerp
A Shtetl Called Dukla
Welcome to Dukla and Jewish Genealogy! Dukla is located in the southern part of Poland, at latitude 49° 34´, longitude 21° 41´. Although the town began in Poland, it was part of of Galicia (an Imperial Province of the Austrian Empire) from 1776 to1919.
Read Uncle Morris’ Stories here.
Irving Stochel’s Side of the Family