T. Fielder Valone, '11
Published: Winter 2010
Personal Experience Inspires Student to Explore Testimonies of Victims
In 1998, at age 10, T. Fielder Valone, Jr. was
on a family trip that changed his life forever.
While visiting Belize, the family decided to take a
quick trip into neighboring Guatemala, despite the
political unrest in that country at the time. The
sightseeing trip took an unpleasant turn, when
their van was surrounded on a remote mountain
road and the family was held at gunpoint. Their
dramatic escape, made while driving in reverse
down the twisty, narrow road, introduced Valone
to the feeling of terror and the experience of
being a victim.
Nearly 10 years later, while doing late-night research for his Holocaust course with Professor Christopher Browning, Valone suddenly connected with the reports of other victims, who realized terror as a constant reality, not just for a few minutes while traveling.
“I suddenly understood the wider implications of facing terror, of being a victim,” said Valone. “As I worked on my paper for the Holocaust course, I developed an intellectual passion to really delve into the subject.”
Valone, a History and American Studies major, is the first recipient of the Elsie Kaplan “Mother Shapiro” ZBT Undergraduate Research and Travel grant in Jewish Studies. He used the funding to help cover expenses for a month-long research trip in New York City this past July. There, he averaged six hours a day examining eyewitness testimonies of Lithuanian-Jewish survivors of genocide, collected immediately after World War II and now archived at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. As an interesting twist, he was only able to pursue his research project because Professor Jonathan Boyarin, associate director of the Center, had translated the documents from Yiddish to English a few years ago. There are 2,000 pages of handwritten testimonies in total, but Valone decided to focus on those from three rural counties on what was then the Lithuanian-German border. The testimonials were recorded by a Holocaust survivor who visited displaced person campus between 1946 and 1948.
“The records are very detailed and organized, exploring pre-war and post-war life in addition to the victims’ experiences during the war years,” explained Valone. “A couple weeks after starting work, I was able to meet with Professor Boyarin and really talk through everything I was learning about. It was difficult to get through the testimonials, the accounts were very brutal, they told about neighbor against neighbor, and it was large scale. I really couldn’t chat about it with friends.”
Back in Chapel Hill for his last year, he is busy turning his numerous legal pads worth of notes and hundreds of pages of photocopies into his senior honors thesis.
“This fall, I have about 3,000 pages of additional background reading to do, and then I need to finish the first draft of my paper by January,” Valone explained. “I figure this project is good practice for graduate school, to see if I really enjoy doing sustained intellectual research and to see if writing a dissertation is something I’d like to do.”
Valone serves as the student representative on the Center’s Advisory Board this year. After graduation this May, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Modern German History and further his research efforts after taking a year off. He is hoping to spend his gap year in Germany, doing the mirror image of his senior thesis research—reviewing the testimonials of war criminals who were in Lithuania.
Photo: Fielder Valone, at right in dark jacket, presents his research findings to the Center's Board of Advisors.