Student Interviews Holocaust Survivor for Smithsonian


Emma Jackson is working on a new Smithsonian exhibit.

Dean’s Intern Emma Jackson at Smithsonian.

The bulk of my work at Smithsonian Museum of American History is just beginning. After going through fingerprinting, background checks, and a lengthy government shutdown, I was finally able to begin filming last week.

I flew to New York City to meet Erna Frischer, a 94-year-old holocaust survivor, and interview her in her Queens apartment.

A bit of background on my project: I am to create a video for an upcoming exhibition set to open in January. The exhibit focuses on the life of Camilla Gottlieb, an Austrian-Jewish woman living during World War II. She and her husband were sent to the Theresienstadt camp, while their only child successfully found refuge in America. It tells Camilla’s story of imprisonment and survival in Europe, and later her immigration to the States and reunification with her daughter.

The story is told through the contents of Camilla’s trunk and purse, in which she kept documents, photos, letters, and other items from throughout her life. Her grandson found this trunk after her death, revealing to him a large part of his grandmother’s past he never knew.

My role is to collect the voices and stories of three people who are connected with Camilla, and can provide some insight into her life.

Erna Frischer, a fellow Austrian-Jew, was best friends with Camilla’s only daughter, and their families took vacations together. We (the two curators and I), were hoping she would tell us more about the personal and emotional details of Camilla’s life. We had made arrangements to meet her in New York, where she lived.

The shoot wasn’t going to be easy; our plane was set to leave later the same day. I was challenged to set up a studio inside a strange apartment. I was worried that we would have to break often, to keep Erna from getting too tired.

Turns out that Erna had more energy than I did. She’s fiery and quick. I had completely underestimated her, and left completely in awe of her powerful personality. She even brought out photos and letters she had saved from wartime. The papers, worn and fragile, were incredible to see.

Heading back toward Washington nearly 12 hours later, I was reminded of why I love video journalism and documentary film making so much. The chance to learn about and capture others’ stories…that’s what really inspires and motivates me. The meeting with Erna was a perfect opportunity to do that. I can only hope that I can portray the experience as beautiful through video as it was in person.

Moving forward, I’m continuing filming this week with a couple more interviews, one with Camilla’s grandson. After that, I will start the post-production process, going through all the footage and editing it into a story. More posts to come on how it all goes!