Understanding The Holocaust Through Survivor Testimonies | Connecticut Public Radio

Understanding The Holocaust Through Survivor Testimonies

May 2, 2019

Security has been stepped up at Jewish synagogues around the state. Thursday is Yom Hashoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - and as people gather to honor the 6 million lives lost, they’ll also remember those killed in shootings at synagogues in California and Pennsylvania.

Thursday also marks 40 years to the day that a videotaping project began in New Haven. A local psychiatrist who was a Holocaust survivor, and a Connecticut journalist began recording the life stories of survivors. Over time, it grew into a large-scale effort housed at Yale University.

Now known as The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, the collection has more than 4,400 testimonies recorded in countries around the world in almost a dozen different languages. The project is widely seen as having pioneered the use of video testimony to record eyewitness accounts of important events in history.

Stephen Naron is the archive director and recently spoke with Connecticut Public Radio.

On interviewing survivors

We don’t come to an interview with a set list of questions to ask. The goal is to provide a space for the survivor where they feel comfortable. We try to hand agency over to the survivor and let the survivor lead the interview. We see the interview/interviewer relationship as analogous to a teacher/student relationship where the survivor is the teacher and the listener is the student. Now, we want our students to be very well-informed. In fact, the interviewers who are still recording testimony have been doing this since the 1980s.

On re-writing the history of the Holocaust

In the early years of scholarship of the Holocaust, history was being written based on German documentation. Germans were meticulous in their documentation of the Holocaust, but the experience of the victims was absent or less present. The establishment of the video archive in the 1970s really shifted the way historians think about sources and how we write the history of the Holocaust. Now, it's almost unheard of not to include the voices of the victims.

On keeping voices of victims relevant

That is our goal. We’re trying to make the materials more readily available to a broader audience. We’ve digitized the collection. In September we plan to release an audio podcast series based on the testimonies.