Going to California: An Unorthodox Spring Break

When most people asked me what I was doing for spring break this year, “going to California” was the default answer. After all, it sounds hip, cool, collegiate. But for those who know me, it probably came as no surprise to hear I was voluntarily flying out West to conduct an oral history of a Holocaust survivor in Palm Springs.

On March 11, I hopped on a flight from Lambert International to LAX, where I linked up with one of my old friends Kristen (she’s currently a student at University of Illinois) and, after exploring a bit/sitting in traffic and praying we wouldn’t be hit by a rogue Californian driver, we headed to Quarters Korean BBQ, where we were meeting up with two of my friends in the realm of human rights studies, Aaron and Emmanuel.

But perhaps I should back up a bit here. The trip itself was lovely, don’t get me wrong. And I’d love to tell you about Hollywood and beef brisket and mountains, but I think the coolest part of my journey West was how it came about (Spoiler: benevolent wizards had nothing to do with it.)

Since my junior year of high school, the Spungen Family Foundation and CANDLES Holocaust Museum have been looking out for me big time, providing me with generous support and countless opportunities to grow, both as a student and as a citizen. After hearing about my lecture on the Ratlines in January, the two decided to introduce me to an eyewitness as well as provide me with a grant and the recording equipment necessary to interview him (I am not embarrassed in the least to say I geeked out).

Of course, after saying yes I realized I had never conducted an interview before. Sure, I was partnered with Holocaust survivors and charged with recording their stories in the tradition of oral history, but I had never really interviewed somebody before. Lucky for me, however, my major advisor Professor Walke has been doing oral history for years (she just published a book using testimonies as extensive source material) and she was more than happy to offer guidance and resources galore in the weeks leading up to my trip. When the final countdown to spring break was here, I was feeling as prepared as I could be, given that I never feel prepared enough for anything. Kristen and I had an itinerary and a list of questions, we had done preliminary research, and we were ready to rock.