Imagine stumbling upon a three-decade-old interview of your grandmother’s Holocaust experiences on YouTube, and then listening to her retell her account of Jewish resistance against Nazis in Poland. Gal Nordlicht, who had never heard his grandmother’s story, before could only describe the experience as “incredible.”
The Nordlicht’s are just one of many families who have discovered a relatives’ Shoah testimony online through the Holocaust Oral History Collection website, created by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Oral History Division in the Institute of Contemporary Jewry. It was launched last Thursday to overlap with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.
The website has 900 Holocaust-related recordings and transcripts made available to the public for the first time. Sharon Kangisser Cohen, academic director of the Oral History Division, said in a statement that, “as we have already seen, it has been significant on the personal level as families are rediscovering their family’s past as people have found interviews with their parents and grandparents, which they had never heard before.”
However, Cohen not only considers this website an invaluable resource for families, but also for Holocaust research and for the public because the library, which was started in 1959, is one of the earliest archives of its kind.
Compared to other online libraries such as the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation and the Yale Holocaust project, the Hebrew U. website is the only one with access to material from as early as the 1960s, Cohen explained. “What does it mean to tell your story 10 years afterwards compared to 60 years?” she asked.
Cohen does admit that, on the one hand, it is a “problem” and a “barrier” that many of the interviewees spoke in their first languages and not Hebrew or English.
But the website, and others like it, make these interviews more “manageable” and “accessible” since a search can be done by name, town, city, or even time period.
Prof. Dalia Ofer, emeritus at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, said the website enables the public “to use the testimonies as part of their regular study and and interest in the life of the Jews during this period.”
It will also allow “students to explore this archive with ease and success.”
But, the 900 recordings and transcripts online are only a fraction of the Division’s collection of 12,000 testimonies.
This archive includes not only testimonies from Holocaust survivors, but also from key individuals in the Zionist movement, organizations such as the United Jewish Appeal, men and women who grew up under the British Mandate in Palestine, under Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, or in various Jewish communities throughout the world.
These first interviews were made possible by funding from the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.
According to Cohen, the Division will now continue to preserve Holocaust history by further digitizing their archive and uploading it online.