Cerrotti’s podcast follows her grandmother’s journey as a Holocaust survivor



A photo from We Share the Same Sky: Glumslöv, Sweden / Follow My Footprints. Above is storyteller, educator and producer, Rachael Cerrotti.

Today you can find millions of books on World War II about the tales of Jews seeking asylum. You may think that these stories are in the past, but they continue to affect the present and how people view life.

The reverberations of these stories are a reminder that history is never ending. Rachael Cerrotti’s podcast, We Share the Same Sky, produced by the USC Shoah Foundation, follows her grandmother’s Holocaust survivor story. Cerrotti narrates the decade long journey she took to retrace Hana Dubova’s (her grandmother) journey that starts in Kolin, Czechoslovakia and ends in New York City.

This poignant podcast that cuts to your bones, touches on the themes of grief, loss, guilt, kindness, and what it means to be home. Cerrotti intertwines the story of her grandmother with the story of her young adult life, jumping from the loss her grandmother feels, to the loss that she experiences. Through uncovering Hana’s story, Cerrotti is able to see her life in a new way, and is able to deal with the pain she goes through.

As Cerrotti travels from Prague, Berlin, Denmark, Sweden, and America, she meets the people of Hana’s past who helped her grandmother escape the Nazis, highlighting the empathy and good will that emerged.

Cerrotti takes the listener back to WWII and each narrow escape Hana survived by incorporating clips of primary source WWII broadcasts and using somber music that adds to the swirl of emotions in the current episode. She also finds the people that Hana stayed with during her journey, and makes a point of understanding their side of the story, their losses, and she sees how the paths of their families crossed decades before.

Hana’s journey was complex, leaving her stateless for 17 years. She started off in Kolin, Czechoslovakia, and then escaped on a train to Berlin after the Munich Agreement was signed. From Berlin, she boarded a ship to Denmark and then took another train to Copenhagen, where she was sent to a farm and was forced to adjust to the rigors of that life.

When Denmark was invaded, Hana decided to stay. She continued to work on the farm and applied to boarding schools, telling them she’d clean facilities in exchange for free education. One boarding school took her, and once she graduated, she became a maid for a banker’s family.

One night, a Danish man knocked on the door of the banker’s family, and told them there was going to be a raid on the Jews. Hana was taken to a Church where there were other Jews waiting to flee to Sweden. From there, she boarded another ship that would take her to Sweden, where she would live until the war was over.

Hana burdened the loss of her family and having to find a new home each time the Nazi’s came, bringing up the question of what is home? Is home a place? Is it family? Is it a feeling? But no matter where Hana went, one thing always followed her night and day, and that was the sky. Hana shared the same sky with her parents, with everyone else who was fleeing, and with all the compassionate people who had offered their homes as places of refuge.

All the times that Hana was saved and a stranger risked their life for her showed her there was still hope; the world was not completely enveloped by darkness. There was a path of kindness illuminated for the persecuted Jews, only able to be seen by the shadows of the Nazis surrounding them.

This question of “Why did I live when everyone else I know died?” was something Hana pondered her entire life. Hana’s survivor’s guilt came across in her diaries and poems that she wrote. In one poem titled Vulnerability, Hana writes “If our armor is made right, we can bend a little, stoop down to pet a dog or pick a flower. It’s hard to cook in it or do housework, but it is best to keep it on at all times. Especially at special occasions like Christmas and birthdays so you don’t start thinking sad thoughts of the past.”

These poems that Hana had written resonated with Cerrotti as she grappled with her own grief, and realized that maybe people do grieve for themselves, rather than just for the dead.

Every time Cerrotti went back to read her grandmother’s diary, her understanding and perception of the entry changed.

“In the wake of grief, everything looked and felt different, before my ability to understand emotions in Hana’s writings was limited,” Cerrotti said.

While Cerrotti’s podcast honored her grandmother and recognized all the atrocities committed against the Jews during WWII, it was also a way for her to find serenity in Hana’s past. She was able to use her grandmother’s story to help her through hard times in the present.

Cerrotti realized her grandmother had been forced to become a woman at age 14 (when she last saw her family). While her grandmother’s story may have seemed distant, it is ever present in everything that happens today; through the discrimination and injustices people face, through other people’s stories of escaping oppression, and through knowing when to let go once something has prevented you from living.

Her podcast carries a powerful message: while there is grief and pain in life, it does not define you, that single point does not define history. These experiences of anguish will teach you to enjoy life for what it is.