This project has become an important step in my life. At first, it took me a long time to make up my mind to take part. I did not know how exactly the online sessions would be happening, and I didn’t know whether I would be able to mix well with the participants, because this was my first experience of meeting people remotely. But since the very first meeting I understood that many participants had a common goal: to research and understand one of the important periods of history, to attempt seeing the events of World War II through the lens of oneself and one’s family. With each coming meeting I was learning new concepts and inspired to think new thoughts, because in the beginning I actually lacked understanding of many things. For instance, the difference between the politics of memory in Germany, Ukraine, and Poland. When we were told about the Stolpersteine (“stumbling blocks”) project, I couldn’t understand it, and my emotions were negative. I am accustomed to seeing huge, heavy monuments—they are so numerous in Ukraine. So in my imagination the words “monument” and “memory space” meant some huge structures rather than small stones one could step upon. Thanks to the dialog I was able to grasp the main idea, and to realize that such “stumbling blocks” also existed in Ukraine, not only in Germany. Still, they are not popular in Ukraine, and few people know about the sense behind those “stumbling blocks.” The reason is, such “stumbling blocks” can be found only in some Ukrainian cities. In our region we never had such “memory spaces.” This was probably the reason of my consternation: I had never seen anything like that.
Each meeting was special to me. Each time, while working in the international groups, we established dialog and discussed important and challenging issues. Apart from sharing my knowledge and thoughts on World War II in my country, I also wanted to share interesting facts about Ukraine. In addition, I learned many facts about Germany and Poland. It was so awesome: regardless of the distance between us, each meeting was happening in a friendly atmosphere. Over this time, we became close with many participants, and even now, when the program is over, we keep seeing each other online and discussing a number of subjects, learning more about each other’s countries. It is important, because it helps to dismantle stereotypes, which are so numerous. This becomes possible only through dialog between people.
My main fear before and during the project was about collecting oral history concerning my own family. I didn’t know what the end result was supposed to look like, nor how to record an interview or even to make up questions. I could list a number of other questions that made me nervous. The fears were gone thanks to the support of the organizers who always provided support in the preparations for the interviews and throughout the project, always giving important and useful advice. This helped me believe that I would do it. I think it is awesome when people really care, when they can help you and answer the numerous questions.
I opened up a new door in my family history. It became clear to me how important it is to keep the memory of the people who were so close to me. I felt entirely different when I understood that all the events of World War II that we had learned from the books, actually had to do with my family. I felt how close those terrible events were to me, because my relatives had personally witnessed all that chaos and pain. The future generations should remember: those are not just some words in the book, those are real events that brought each family pain and trials. We should remember that we live because someone has sacrificed their life for us. And that someone can happen to be your grandfather, grandmother, etc. Our last meeting, the one at which we presented our family stories in international groups, was quite challenging to me, because it filled my head with questions and thoughts. When I listened to other participants’ stories and shared my own one, a question registered in my mind: How did all those people muster strength to keep on living? I do not have a ready answer; it’s a mystery to me. Each person had their own feelings and their own destiny; one cannot say there was one particular factor that helped them stay strong. Regardless of the countries and cities people lived in, everyone had to survive terrible events of that time. Among all the pain and chaos they probably hoped that the war would end soon, the parents would see their children, the husbands would see their wives. It was probably hope that helped them not to break under the pressure of the war.