The Holocaust Oral History Archive of Gratz College
- Gratz College Holocaust Archive
The Holocaust Oral History Archive of Gratz College, established in 1979, is one of the earliest collections of primary Holocaust testimony in the United States. Professor Nora Levin z”l and Josey Fisher, impacted by video testimony of survivors in Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry, committed themselves to documenting unique accounts of Holocaust experience in the Philadelphia area. At the time, individual narratives were not yet recognized by established historians as integral to Holocaust documentation. With no funding and no established model, the Holocaust Oral History Archive project began. Concerns over rising Holocaust denial prompted many previously reticent survivors to go on record - Gratz College was a familiar and trusted community resource. Trained volunteers visited their homes, tape recorders in hand. Supportive interviewers at familiar kitchen tables encouraged survivors to share painful, complex memories. For some of them it was the only time they would do this; for others, it encouraged them to continue to speak. They began to find their narrative, a way to tell their stories. For scholars and educators, these testimonies became an essential part of Holocaust documentation, personalizing and humanizing the experience so that the historical context breathes with reality.
The Holocaust Oral History Archive volunteers included survivors who interviewed, aided with translations and place names, and enriched our collection with their personal accounts – a Polish teen hiding in Warsaw, a young German woman passing as a non-Jew, a young French-Russian teen liberated from Auschwitz, a Czech teen rescued in Denmark and Sweden, several young evacuees on the Kindertransport, two children on the SS St. Louis, and a teen on the HMT Dunera. A liberator of the Ohrdruf concentration camp developed a special collection of witnesses to the liberation. The outreach expanded in 1985 when the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors was held at the Civic Center in Philadelphia. The Archive recruited hundreds of additional volunteers and held a day-long training session in the sanctuary of Rodeph Shalom Synagogue in Center City. Organizers used curtains to provide private interview space within the main hall, and copies of these audiotapes were later sent to the interviewees. It became clear that some had not yet told details of their experience to their families and these tapes provided a transition to more open communication. Two additional gatherings in 1991 and 1998, dubbed “Rickshaw Reunions”, were held in local hotels. Individuals who had found safety in Shanghai were interviewed in their rooms, sitting on beds and desk chairs, taking time from eager reunions with other “Shanghailanders”.
The Holocaust Oral History Archive of Gratz College seeks to record, preserve, and make available to advanced students and researchers the testimonies of those who experienced the Nazi era (1933-1945) in ghettos, camps, labor brigades, resistance forces, national armies, in hiding, and in rescue operations. Established in 1979 and maintained by a dedicated volunteer staff, the Gratz collection is one of the earliest Holocaust oral history projects in the U.S. and includes over 850 audiotaped interviews, most of which are transcribed, catalogued and available through interlibrary loan. The Archive is a Contributing Organization to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem.
The Archive has hosted presentations to teachers and advanced student groups studying oral history and continues to develop anthologies of testimony excerpts appropriate for teaching and programming. Publications include The Persistence of Youth: Oral Testimonies of the Holocaust (ed. Josey G. Fisher), 15 accounts of young people's experience from the Gratz collection and Jewish Life in Pre-War Germany, testimony excerpts of the early Nazi era and Kristallnacht.
Holocaust Oral History Archive is a special collection of the Tuttleman Library and a contributing organization to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Research Institute and to Yad Vashem.
Holocaust Archives organizing and transcribing team includes Josey Fisher, Violet Zeitlin, Dori Schwartz, and many more. Processing and organization of this collection for the web was done by Andrew Pollak and Donna Guerin. Website was designed and built by NetCrafters Interactive.
Included in the Archive are the digitized sound recordings of the collection made possible through partnerships with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Transcriptions of a sizeable number of interviews have been meticulously audited by dedicated Archive volunteers. Summaries and search terms provide additional access to the collection.
All oral histories were recorded at Gratz College, Melrose Park PA, from 1980 to 2006, under the auspices of Nora Levin and Josey Fisher. Transcriptions of the recordings are ongoing. The collection is comprised of interviews produced by Gratz College; interviews from Project Kabed produced by Jerry M. Freimark; and interviews from the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, Philadelphia, PA, 1985. Digital files have been converted from the original tapes by the United States Holocaust History Museum, Washingonton, D.C, and received in 2019.
The Archive houses one of the largest collections of audio-taped testimony in the U.S, including interviews with nearly 900 survivors, liberators, resistance force members, those in hiding, rescuers, and other witnesses to the persecution and extermination of the Nazi era, 1933-1945. Special groupings include the testimonies of "Kindertransport" children sheltered in England, the 1985 Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, the 1991 and 1999 Rickshaw Reunions of Shanghai Survivors, and the Vilna Ghetto Fighters. The Archive also documents Jewish cultural life in pre-Nazi Europe via unpublished memoirs, letters, diaries, photographs, memorial books and survivor registers.
To access the digitized audio files, click here
The Gratz College Holocaust Oral History Archive is open on Tuesdays from 1:00 to 5:00 P.M. or by appointment
The collection is open for use with the exception of not yet processed items. The collection is active and ongoing.
The Library on-site collection is available to faculty, students, and researchers on a case-by-case basis. Visiting researchers must make an appointment with the Librarian to access the collections. All guests must sign in at the College front desk.
This collection has been placed in the permanent care, custody, and control of the Holocoust Oral History Archive at Gratz College by the donors of the collection. Questions concerning rights to use or publish materials from the collection should be addressed to Josey Fisher, Director of the Holocaust Oral History Archive, email@example.com.
Footnotes and bibliographic references should refer to the Holocaust Oral History Archive and Gratz College. The recommended citation is:
Interviewee last name, first name. “Title of interview (if any.)*” Interview by First Name Last Name of interviewer. Day Month Year of interview. Unique identifier, Publisher name (title of database or website), Holocaust Oral History Archive. Tuttleman Library, Gratz College. Format (e.g., CD-ROM, Digital audio file, Audiocassette).