When The Going Gets Tough, Keep Asking Questions

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It’s kind of funny. For years, you listen to someone on a podcast or on the radio and you think you know them. You’ve heard their voice and their stories. They beam into your life and fill the space where you listen. Or, if you’re wearing headphones, their voices worm their way directly into your ears. How could you not know them?


And, then, one day, a reporter tells a personal story and you realize the opposite is true. You actually know nothing about them. And so it was with a story I heard last year by Uri Berliner.

I don’t hear Uri on NPR all that frequently. He’s an editor and typically works behind the scenes. Still, his very measured presence in business and economics stories is familiar to me. His reporting is clear and tends toward the informational — not a lot of narrative and emotional depth.

But, late last year, Uri stepped out of his usual role to produce a personal story about his father who grew up in Berlin in the 1930s. (It was produced in conjunction with NPR’s StoryLab.) The piece stopped me in my tracks. Not only because it was Uri telling a story in a way that I hadn’t heard before, but because the story itself was compelling — especially the moments between he and his dad.

Uri says the interview with his father was incredibly difficult. He’d never really spoken to his dad about the painful memories of growing up in Nazi Germany or the last time his father saw his parents. In addition to posing tough questions, Uri asked his dad read aloud a letter his parents sent to him decades ago. You can hear the pain.

On this episode of HowSound, Uri offers the backstory to the piece and he talks about asking family members challenging questions.

Editor’s note: We learned that when Uri’s father passed away in March, 2019, NPR produced this piece as a follow-up.

Photo by Rolf Venema.

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