I had the privilege of working with Mrs. Hansi Bodenheim this past semester. Mrs. Bodienhiem is a survivor of the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp. Born in Mainz Germany, Mrs. Bodenheim’s parents tried to emigrate to America during Hitler’s rise to power. Unfortunately, their attempt to emigrate was unsuccessful. They were, however, able to send their daughter–Mrs. Bodenheim–to relatives in Antwerp, Belgium. There, Mrs. Bodenheim lived with her cousins until the Nazi’s invaded Belgium. She and her relatives fled from their home with only what they could carry in an attempt to make to France but were unable to cross the border because they lacked the necessary documentation. Thus, Mrs. Bodenheim was stuck in Belgium. Like many other Jews all across Europe, she hid to survive. Her hiding places ranged from a run-down barn to a literal castle and everything in between. Tragically, Mrs. Bodenheim was caught by the Nazi’s and shipped off to the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp. Several months later, she was rescued by the Russians and made her way back to her cousin’s house in Antwerp. There, she met her future husband–an American soldier–, and together they emigrated to the United States.
Mrs. Bodeniem generously offered up her dining room to conduct the interviews. Over the course of the semester, not only was I able to record over ten hours of audio from our interview sessions, but I also got to know Mrs. Bodenheim.
Going into the fellowship, I wanted to create my project around the survivor’s life post-1945. The period of rebuilding and starting a life after the Holocaust isn’t covered much in mainstream media. Consequently, I wanted to learn more about it. As it turned out, however, that wasn’t the main focus of my project.
The opportunity to get to know Mrs. Bodenheim as a person, and not just as a story, led me to the main focus my project. I realized that there was a more interesting story to be explored than the one I was originally interested in. Once Mrs. Bodenheim was captured by the Nazis, she was stripped of all her belongings–chiefly a grey wool coat. This coat was incredibly important to Mrs. Bodenheim because it held the last shreds of her previous life. I decided to recreate the coat and the belongings that were held within it. As people worked their way through the coat, they would find a poignant or relevant quote from Mrs. Bodenheim that was tied to the object. In addition, there was a QR code if the person wanted to learn more about how the specific object related to Mrs. Bodenheim’s story. From each pocket, the viewer would get another snapshot into Mrs. Bodenheim’s experience.
I had a wonderful time working as a fellow with the Stories That Live Foundation and am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to do so.