Reflections on the Process
of Writing Nina’s Postwar Narrative

by Anna Williams
June 4, 2002
UCSB History 199ra (Oral History Project homepage)
Prof. Marcuse (homepage)

The prospect of writing Nina’s postwar narrative intimidated me at first. I definitely did not want to do it alone and was not sure where to begin. In reading her letter, the Carpenteria High students' story, Mario Perez’s postwar write-up, various interviews with Nina and her elder daughter Rosalynn, and Prof. Marcuse's journal of the 1999 trip to Lviv I got a starting base. Also, speaking to Carpinteria High School teacher Casey Roberts and Nina's former student and friend Colette gave me information about how Nina came to tell her story, as well as some insight into her personality – such as her refusal to buy German products and her natural ability to make friends of all ages. Although Mario’s write up is short, it proved very informative and accurate, as did the interviews with Nina and Rosalynn. Additionally, through this preliminary research I began to get a sense of Nina's personality that I intentionally included in the narrative and, I think, was successful in expressing. However, before I could fill pages I needed to read transcripts of her talks to students to get the complete story. In weeks five through eight I obtained the necessary transcripts and videos and compiled the narrative. With a full rough draft in hand, I finally met Nina and revised it to obtain her input.

In the entire process various discrepancies took away from the ease in piecing together an accurate narrative, but highlighted the historical process of doing so. For example, in the Carpinteria narrative from 1995 the student authors wrote that Nina went to the site of her childhood house and lamented that it was a pile of bricks. They turned out to have taken some artistic license. When I recounted Nina’s reunion with Hania I first trusted the Carpenteria narrative, which describes Nina’s bitter resentment for Hania's incomprehension of Nina's suffering. However, in later talks, Nina describes Hania as a wonderful support for her after the war, without a hint of resentment. In my narrative I combined these two sentiments and Nina approved. It may be that she did resent Hania, but as more time passed, her desire to present a positive image of Hania overcame her resentment.

Another discrepancy provided a challenge when I read in Rosalynn's interview that, when the family moved to California, they lived with Nina’s father for a year. [Anna may be mistaken here. Rosalynn probably meant her own father, Nina's husband.] As Nina herself tells that her father was sent away by the Russians in 1939-40 for owning a factory and never seen again, I just had to ignore this point. Further, as Rosalynn's interview contains some sensitive personal information, I had to take care not to divulge anything that would expose things Nina wanted to keep private.

One other interesting point is Nina’s wedding ceremony with Josef. In the chaos of the early postwar period it was not easy to arrange an "official" ceremony. In 1946 in Kattowice, Poland, they gathered enough witnesses to consecrate a Jewish union, but they could not find an ordained rabbi. Still, from then on their marriage was recognized as legal. Mario’s account relates Nina’s feeling of having had little choice at Josef’s ultimatum of marriage or separation, when she opted for marriage. Clearly, their union in Kattowice was as official as was necessary and possible in that historical situation.

Further, when Nina talks of the Kielce pogrom she remembers that 180 people died. Today, research indicates that around 46 people were killed. However, Nina heard her news by word of mouth when fear and rumors were rife. I included a link to a description of the Kielce pogrom to correct the error and give readers more background information.

In the end, the narrative must be as she wants it. Although she permits artistic license, my job to create as accurate an account as possible takes precedence. On a final note, although I was nervous to meet Nina and read my account of her life, it was also comfortable. This comfort came from me feeling like I already knew her personally from having read her story and heard her speak. It was an honor to meet her and a wonderful experience working on this project.

uploaded June 2003; some edits by hm, March 15, 2005
go to: how Anna learned about the Holocaust; Nina's postwar story; Oral history project homepage