Loyola University Chicago

Department of History


MA student Szilvia Finali uses Twitter to explore grandfather's extraordinary life

MA student Szilvia Finali uses Twitter to explore grandfather

Szilvia Finali  discusses her approach to documenting her grandfather's life through Twitter below. You can view her grandfather's account on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Laszlo1921

Why did you choose Twitter as the platform to tell your grandfather's story?

I've chosen Twitter to tell my grandfather's story because I wanted to reach a different and wider audience. Twitter is a digital platform utilized by all age groups - but definitely by Millennials and Gen Z-ers-  and is available to anyone with an internet connection. That way some people who wouldn't necessarily consider buying a book on this topic, could stumble onto this Twitter feed and read the story. The original recording of my grandfather telling the story doesn't allow for a book. The interview is only about 4 hours long. Those 4 hours don't include every detail that would be necessary if I wanted to write a book. I could add things to it, sure, but then it wouldn't be his REAL story anymore And it is very important to me that the story stays 100% true - exactly how my grandfather experienced it, in HIS own words.

Have you had any reactions from readers? What are they saying?

I started the Twitter feed about two weeks ago, so I haven't received that many followers yet. Some of the people that follow the Twitter feed though say that they are intrigued and want to see how the story unfolds.

Has tweeting about your grandfather's experience changed the way you see his story? Or shed light on different aspect of his story?

It has been quite a transcendental experience on so many different levels. First, it was a wonderful feeling to see my grandfather again. He passed away ten years ago and I have been missing him dearly. It was wonderful  hear his voice and to see him talk. To hear this poignant story told by him. I felt that for 4 hours, he was there with me and I was there with him. I felt connected to him. Some of the things he said really affected me. I moved to the US five years ago without my family. Homesickness is something I experience on a daily basis. At one point during the interview he says that he had the opportunity to move to France when he was a teenager, but he refused because "how could I leave my family behind. How could I leave my parents and my siblings behind". That's exactly what I did five years ago. My family stayed behind in Hungary. So in a way, I felt that my grandfather was telling me that sentence transcending time and space. It was a very tough moment.

What are some of the difficulties in telling your grandfather's story over Twitter?

One tricky thing is illustration. I wish I had more images of my grandfather and the people who appear in the story. Also, it's hard to split up his monologue into 140 characters at a time, but I think I've managed to find the right balance. Listening to his story, transcribing it and translating it has allowed me to understand it more. It has allowed me to connect with the story at a deeper level. It was incredibly important for me to give this project the utmost respect, since it is about my beloved grandfather and his story which revolves around a heavy topic. At first I was very hesitant at the idea of posting his story in Twitter. I felt that the platform might not be "mature" enough for a content that is that personal and heavy. But in the meantime I realized that it is a great platform for this. Like I mentioned before, it allows me to present this story in an unusual medium for the subject matter; on a platform that this new generation of millennials and Gen Z-ers understand and perhaps can connect with more easily and frequently.

Do you have any plans for the project after the class?

I am planning on combining this Twitter project with another one. My grandmother was writing a diary the same time my grandfather was taken to a labor force camp. My grandmother was 19 years old when Nazi German forces occupied Budapest and with the help of a friend who provided her and some other members of her family, she was able to hide in Budapest and then in the countryside. She had begun writing this diary three years before the occupation and kept it until the end of the war. I am planning on translating her diary and publishing it as part of an exciting digital project, possibly combining it with my grandfather's story. I know what I would like to do, but I don't have the technological skills yet that would allow me to create this project on my own. Therefore, once I am done translating the diary, I will have to look into how I can make my ideas come true.

What are your plans for after graduation?

After I graduate I would like to continue my studies. My dream is to do a PhD program in Digital Education. I'm a second year student in the Digital Media and Storytelling MA program. When I'm not at school or when I'm not working on my school projects I teach English to people from all over the world. I truly enjoy teaching and therefore, one of my biggest dreams is to do a PhD program in Digital Education. And last, but not least, I love words. I love reading and writing. Reading is in part responsible for who I am. And writing allows me to express that. It's like breathing. I read, so I inhale, and I write, therefore I exhale. I guess I get this from my grandfather.