‘In My Mother’s Voice’

Speaker shares importance of storytelling

Storyteller Judy Sima presents “In My Mother’s Voice,” the story of her mother’s encounter with the Gestapo and escape from Nazi Germany, to a crowd at the Peter White Public Library on Monday evening. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — “We had to leave our families behind in Nazi Germany, and I didn’t know if I’d ever see my mother or my father or my younger brother again. It was the summer of 1941. I was 29 years old, and I had never been more than a few day’s journey from my hometown, and here I was on a ship bound for America, and I didn’t even know a word of English.”

“My Mother’s Voice,” a recount by storyteller Judy Sima of her mother’s encounter with the Gestapo and her escape from Germany in WWII, begins here.

Sima told this story of heartache, history and even some humor as well as other stories from her childhood in the Peter White Public Library Community Room on Monday evening.

A storyteller, author, teacher and librarian, Sima told the captivating story of her mother who would have been 107 years old this year, not only to honor the life of her mother but to highlight the importance of storytelling and knowing one’s family history.

“I think as you get older you start thinking a little bit further back and you want to know what happened to you, your roots,” Sima said. “Growing up, I was pretty much focused on my kids and my work, but I had also become a storyteller, and people were telling interesting stories about their families, and I thought, well, my mother had an interesting story. I wanted to be able to tell that story.”

When Sima had become interested in sharing this story, she couldn’t just ask her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Instead, she had to take the bits she had heard throughout her life and gather more stories from her sister to begin creating the account. She researched Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, and requested documents from the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Sima believes a compelling story can come from writing it first and then filling it with the facts and details as you come upon them.

“A good story captures your imagination, so you can see the events of the story in your mind’s eye,” Sima said. “It has a little bit of humor in it, a little bit of pathos, so that you want to know more about it and you can really feel it. If you’re telling a personal story like I did about my mother, it has to be real, and as I said before, you never let the facts get in the way of a good story. So, it’s OK to embellish a little bit.”

Sima began telling her mother’s story in 2012 and also shared her own story of becoming a librarian and teacher as well as Thanksgiving 1956, an amusing story of one of her family’s failed Thanksgiving feasts.

After sharing, Sima passed around a list of prompts that often evoke stories from the crowd, such as “share the story of how your parents met,” “your parent’s words of wisdom that still guide you today” or “what would you tell your parents if they were alive today?” She encouraged the crowd to take an interest in their families’ histories and to start by talking with living relatives, looking into genealogy and searching for documents that might tell bits and pieces of a family’s story.

“Just snooping around the things that your mother told you, and start checking it out with your brothers and sisters,” Sima said. “Start writing them down. Tell your own history if you don’t know the things that happened to your great-grandmother or your grandmother. Tell your own history. Share that with your family.”

It’s important to know where one came from, she said.

Sima spreads the importance of storytelling through her and Kevin Cordi’s book, “Raising Voices: Creating Youth Storytelling Groups,” and “Troupes,” a guide for adults that teaches children how to create and tell stories. She also conducts teaching workshops and tells her own story throughout the United States.

“For me, I’m a teacher,” Sima said. “This is what I do, and helping people to create their own stories is really important to me.”

For more information on Sima’s workshops, books or stories, visit judysima.com.