It’s been six years since NPT’s Will Pedigo produced “Living On: Tennesseans Remembering the Holocaust.” But the emotion and meaning that he poured into the documentary is still very much with him. In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Friday, January 27, Pedigo reflects on making the film, and asks that Tennesseans throughout the state take an hour — today, tomorrow, or in the next few days — to reflect as well, and listen to the stories of those that were there.
In 2003, a year or so after graduating from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, I returned to visit a few of my closest friends on campus, in particular my photojournalism professor Rob Heller. At that point in my life I had just been hired as a production assistant at NPT and was looking for a documentary project to invest myself in. My arrival on campus was a surprise to Rob and he greeted me by saying, “I was just going to call you.” Heller had been hired to make portraits of Tennessee Holocaust Survivors and Liberators by the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. The portraits would be combined with personal stories to create a museum exhibit and educational materials for schools. He wondered if I wanted capture the process. That is how I got connected with Living On, my first documentary project and perhaps the most meaningful work I will ever be a part of.
In the 9 years since then, Living On has been exhibited statewide, traveled to Poland and become a book. The documentary, Living On: Tennesseans Remembering the Holocaust, has aired on PBS stations around the country. The Tennessee Holocaust Commission continues to reformat and shape Living On materials for teachers, community groups and anyone who will listen to the stories and keep the flame of remembrance alive. In 2008, the 50 some odd hours of unedited interview footage from the documentary were donated to the Tennessee State Library and Archives to be maintained in perpetuity.
The whole idea behind Living On is that first person testimony of what happened in the Holocaust is the single most important way to put a human face on an unfathomable event. But Tennessee seemed an unlikely and unexpected place for a project like Living On. The state is not necessarily known for its significant population of Holocaust Survivors and Liberators, and with each passing few voices remained to tell those stories, One day, it was imaginable there would be none. The local connection of Living On is part of its power and importance. In a place and time seemingly far from that brutal period of human history, there are still deeply personal and relatable connections – your neighbors, your friends, your family.
But the work of Living On is never done. Materials may exist, videos made available, but the next audience may be unfamiliar with the resource of the people behind Living On or the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. The future of Remembrance is ultimately not the responsibility of individual Survivors, but the listeners and the next generation. To that end, we all have a part to play.
Friday, January 27, 2012 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day of remembrance, do you have an hour of reflection to be that listener? To be that next generation to hear the stories of fellow Tennesseans and carry the flame? I would hope that you do.