3: Oral history excerpt, Lily Fenster, 1994.
As Kurzweil demonstrates throughout Flying Couch, and as she explains in interviews, her thesis project at Stanford, which eventually turned into the book, was inspired by her grandmother’s oral history. That oral history was recorded during two long interviews with the historian Sidney Bolkosky, and it is available on the University of Michigan’s Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, with an added transcription. In Flying Couch, then, we have the result of an oral history being adapted and translated into scenes and images that have been edited, stylized, and paired with a modern-day story of intergenerational transmission and the search for Jewish identity.
Suggested Activities: Have students listen to this recording of Lillian (Lily) Fenster. In it, she describes returning to the ghetto to visit her mother during the period when Lily was hiding out in the country and pretending to be a poor, non-Jewish orphan. Have students take special note not only of the story’s details, but also of how she chooses to tell the story. Do they notice any parts, for instance, where she slows down, or sounds more emotional? Are there pauses or repetitions? Was anything confusing? When does the interviewer interject, and why? Once they have listened to it, have the class collectively try to describe what was said, how it was said, and what else students learned about Lily’s personality and experience from the interview.
Students can then compare this oral history to Kurzweil’s interpretation of it on pages 157-160 of Flying Couch. Have students note which parts of the oral history Kurzweil used in her book and which parts she left out. How do Kurzweil’s images, paired with the text, add to or help shape the story? What visual details or cues stood out here? In what ways does reading the interpretation of this history differ from listening to the original oral history? What are the similarities?
Source: Lily Fenster, interview by Dr. Sidney Bolkosky, November 8 and 10, 1994 (Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, University of Michigan), http://holocaust.umd.umich.edu/fenster/.