Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Peri Berki - December 9, 1983

Interviewer Observations

Mrs. Berki, as I'm sure comes across in the interview is a very intelligent, well-read, sensitive person. I've spoken to her before when I did her portrait. And so we've spoken about many other subjects besides the Holocaust. The interview initially began with great difficulty because she was very reluctant to speak into the tape recorder. She is a very articulate woman, but as I think she mentioned several times she's very concerned about coming across with correct grammar, using the correct words, organizing her thoughts. She's much more comfortable writing her thoughts and being able to edit them afterwards as she has done in a book she has written and, which will be given, as she said to the, to the archives. But she is very concerned about coming across in a very well organized, articulate manner. And as she was listening to parts of this interview, she kept saying, oh how terrible she sounded, how she hated the sound of her voice, she hated her accent, she used incorrect words, she kept asking me to correct her when she said something that was not correct English. And so she's very, very proud of being able to express herself well, and therefore is not happy with the interview process because she can't edit herself. And so she was very uncomfortable in the beginning. Also she felt that she was repeating much of what she said in the book. And she was very self-conscious and uncomfortable about the interview, so it took awhile to get her going. But I think as is, as is evident in the tape, she uh, she expresses herself very easily and well. One thing that struck me throughout the interview was that she kept repeating and she said this to me afterwards also, how proud she was of having masqueraded as a Gentile, of having pulled it off, of having encountered all these obstacles and difficulties and never slipping up once, she and her son both. She, she kept saying how this was a challenge, that she felt proud, she patted herself on the back that she had met the challenge, that she had overcome all these things, that she'd literally faced, many times faced the possibility of death if she had slipped up, and that she kept ingeniously finding ways out of problems. And she says that as she reads her story back to herself she finds it incredible to believe that she lived through this and that she was constantly in, even during the state of anxiety and uncertainty was able to adapt, that's what she kept saying, she was able to adapt. And um, I think that, that struck me. She's... Also the vehemence of her hatred of Hungary is very much evident. She's expressed that to me many times in the past, that she does not, she won't speak Hungarian even with other Hungarian friends that she has in Ann Arbor. She prefers not to speak Hungarian. She completely repudiates Hungary chiefly because of her anti-Semitic experiences. And yet throughout the interview she many times made reference to the many righteous Christians and Gentiles who helped her and without whom she would not have survived, as she herself says. So I think she was a very interesting interviewee and she's a very thoughtful, again a very thoughtful, well read person. And I think her experiences are unusual in that she did live as a Gentile during the war and she has a very good recollection of the whole time because she was old enough. So I very much enjoyed talking to her. Her emotional state during the interview was, again, more preoccupied with how she came across, how she expressed herself, rather than the events themselves, although she showed signs of often anxiety or sadness. She showed a great deal of emotion while telling the story, but when I asked her, when I told her if it became too difficult that she could stop, she said no, no, it, it wasn't so much the emotion of telling the story as her difficulty in remembering all the details. She is eighty-three and she's very self-conscious about, about appearing articulate. So that's my impression of the interview.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn