In the first half of 2019 The In[heir]itance Project will be collaborating with The Museum of Jewish Heritage to create a new piece of theatre based on the sacred text of testimonials from GIs in WWII. We had the first event of this partnership earlier this month, to invite folks join us in exploring explore themes and ideas that were coming up from those video testimonies. Artist and IP Directing Intern, Caterina Nonis, joined us for the conversation that morning and reflected on her experience for our blog this week.

Join us at the museum on January 27th for our first pubic event “From Testimony to Art: Mining the Archives for Meaning” 

On a cold January morning, a group of artists, educators, museum guides,
and a military man gathered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
It was so, so cold outside. Much more than I had anticipated. And I wasn’t ready for
it. But probably – I thought – not as cold as Poland must have been when American
soldiers liberated Auschwitz, which is what we were there to talk about. On my walk
to the museum, I remembered my own visit to the camp several years ago, and how
utterly unprepared I was for it. For the emotional impact, for what it was going to
look like (no matter how many movies and pictures I had seen), and for the freezing
air.

So often in our life we think we’ve prepared for something, and then we find out
very quickly that we absolutely aren’t. So how do you prepare for something you
couldn’t possibly be ready for, like liberating a concentration camp? Or like being in
a concentration camp? We asked our eclectic group for words to describe their
feelings of unpreparedness in their personal experience. What emerged is that no
matter what background, age, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), whether
you’re a soldier training men for combat, the child of an immigrant, or a tour guide,
we all knew what it felt like to be unprepared.

Then someone very wisely observed, “unprepared? That’s life!”, adding that “it
starts when you’re born, and the older I get, the more unprepared I am”. I was
struck by how admitting to this lack of control immediately made me feel more
powerful.

And what about the consequences of the events you weren’t prepared for? We
shared our thoughts and feelings about trauma and its aftermath. For many of us, it
wasn’t just about things that happened in our lives, but events that occurred before
and still shape our identity. We cannot separate ourselves from our past.
This made me think about how interconnected we all are, how we all belong to one
tribe called humanity, and how great strength comes from embracing the shared
history that affects us all.

If, as someone else observed, coping with trauma is often about finding the
vocabulary to make sense of an experience, and if silence isolates us, then coming
together to deal with it might be one of our most powerful weapons.

I thought again about my high school trip to Auschwitz. When we came back home,
my classmates and I had a hard time relaying our experience. Our teacher had to
work hard to get us to do it. But when we finally did it, together, it felt right. That
taught me that the more willing we are to share our burdens with other, the less
scared we become of them, and the more able we will be to work through the
trauma.

-Caterina Nonis was first introduced to the In[heir]itance Project through the Genesis Plays Festival at the 14th St Y last year and now we are lucky enough to have her on our team as the Directing Intern!