by David P. Rosenberg, M.P.A., Reference Services Research Coordinator, Center for Jewish History
The UN General Assembly designated January 27—the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The children of today will be the last generation to meet Holocaust survivors.
The Center for Jewish History houses countless artifacts and archives concerning this horrific period in history. However, learning about what happened by examining yellow stars, ghetto money, transfer lists, books and other papers cannot truly replace the experience of hearing a survivor speak of the terror, seeing numbers on a human being’s arm and being shaken by someone retelling their experiences decades later.
I’ve met many survivors, and I learn more about the scale and scope of the atrocities from each experience. While technology will never replace in-person conversation and the real-life emotion it conveys, recorded oral histories can capture the testimony better than written words alone.
Oral history is defined as “the collection and study of historical information using sound recordings of interviews with people having personal knowledge of past events.”
Our partners here at the Center have many oral histories about the Holocaust. Other institutions, such as the USC Shoah Foundation or the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, are solely dedicated to this important form of documentation.
With the help of Aurora Zinder and Reference Services Research Intern Aliza Schulman, I have compiled a list of institutions that have oral histories concerning the Holocaust.
Resources Available from the Center for Jewish History
Through the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute, you can access the book Oral history interview guidelines / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "The guidelines were originally created for the Department of Oral History’s own interviewers … However, they also provide general advice that can be applied to a wide variety of oral history projects …“ It includes bibliographical references (p. 81-84).
Leo Baeck Institute
“The Austrian Heritage Collection, a program whose specific goal is to document the history of Austrian-Jewish émigrés who fled to the USA during the Nazi years, has been centered at the Leo Baeck Institute since 1996.”
Note: LBI’s collection of unpublished memoirs also offers insights into individual experiences of the Holocaust.
Eyewitness Accounts of the Holocaust Period (RG 104): “The YIVO Institute was involved in several projects to collect written testimonies by survivors of the Holocaust. Series I includes the earliest testimonies and consists of 1,143 items. Series II includes 500 interviews with survivors collected in 1954. Series III includes most testimonies received from the 1960’s to the present. At present there are over 300 items in this series.”
Resources Available from Other Institutions
This select list is intended to highlight major repositories and projects that showcase materials for educational purposes.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) website contains an excellent list of institutions that hold oral history collections. The “International Database of Oral History Testimonies” is meant "to provide a tool for all those interested in the location of Holocaust oral history collections worldwide. There are over 125 entities represented in this catalog.”
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: “The US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s oral history collection is one of the largest and most diverse resources for Holocaust testimonies in the world.”
USC Shoah Foundation: The Institute for Visual History and Education: Started in 1993, recorded over 50,000 oral testimonies of survivors. The Foundation is now halfway through digitizing these interviews.
Yale University Library: Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies: The Fortunoff Video Archive has around 4000 oral Holocaust testimonies. In addition to "single-witness programs” which focus on one person’s story, they have "thematic programs,” which weave more than one person’s story together. Includes testimony of bystanders as well.
Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust: Includes many exhibits about the Holocaust and the persecution and annihilation of Jews from all over Europe. Additionally, they have about 4000 audio and video testimony from survivors, rescuers, liberators and Jews in the Allied Armies.
Yad Vashem (Israel) has collected over 36,000 testimonies since 1945. 11,000 have been digitized and can be seen at their Visual Center.
Museum of Tolerance: The museum has a “Hall of Testimony A specially designed room of witness where visitors can see and hear unforgettable stories of the courage and sacrifice of Holocaust victims and Survivors.”
Letters from the Front: Jewish War Heroes Focuses Russian Jewish War veterans and the persecution Russian Jews during WWII. It has Audio and Video resources available online.
Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive: “The Voice/Vision Archive promotes cultural, racial and religious understanding through unprecedented worldwide access to its collection of Holocaust survivor narratives.”
Telling Their Stories: “High school students at the Urban School of San Francisco conduct and film interviews with Bay Area Holocaust survivors in their homes. Students then transcribe each 2-plus hour interview, create hundreds of movie files associated with each transcript, and then post the full-text, full-video interviews on this public website as a service to a world-wide audience interested in Holocaust studies.“
Voices of the Holocaust is a collection of interviews with Holocaust survivors and other displaced persons conducted by Dr. David P. Boder in Europe in 1946.
The Virginia Holocaust Museum The Oral History Archive contains over 230 digitized testimonies from people who witnessed genocide firsthand.
Wisconsin Historical Society – Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust collection: Archivists from the Wisconsin Historical Society interviewed 22 Wisconsin Holocaust survivors and two American witnesses between 1974 and 1981. The scope of the collection includes 156 hours of audio and 3,400 transcribed pages. These interviews are available digitally, in their entirety, for the first time.
For more Center-based resources about the Holocaust, see these previous blog posts.