Voices of the Holocaust - Illinois Institute of Technology
35 West 33rd Street
In 1946, Dr. David P. Boder, a psychology professor from Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology, traveled to Europe to record the stories of Holocaust survivors in their own words. Over a period of three months, he visited refugee camps in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, carrying a wire recorder and 200 spools of steel wire, upon which he was able to record over 90 hours of first-hand testimony. These recordings represent the earliest known oral histories of the Holocaust, which are available through this online archive.
Despite the groundbreaking nature of his work, Dr. David P. Boder was largely unsuccessful in his efforts to publish the displaced persons (DPs) interviews. Before his death in 1961 though, he did submit a set of seventy interview transcripts to a select number of libraries and historical foundations across the U.S. (including Illinois Institute of Technology), though few volumes remain today. IIT's Paul V. Galvin Library began the process of digitizing the text and audio of the interviews in 1998.
In 1999, copies of the wire recordings were located at the Library of Congress (the location of the originals is unknown). These were converted to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) by the Library of Congress at IIT's request. However, the quality of much of the audio material proved to be disappointing—excessive amounts of static, distortion, hum, and other surface noise make the voices difficult to understand, and in some cases, completely unintelligible. Due to budget constraints, the library was unable to afford the costly audio restoration work necessary to improve the quality of the recordings, and was only able to convert sixteen of the interviews into a streaming format suitable for presentation over the Web.
The first Voices of the Holocaust website was launched in 2000. It featured English transcripts for the seventy interviews transcribed by Boder, and streaming audio for a small portion of these. While limited by today's standards, the site offered unprecedented access to the interview material. Previously, to read these transcripts in person or to listen to the recordings first-hand would require an incredible amount of time and effort on the part of any researcher, and would be completely impossible for most members of the public.
By the mid 2000s, the project determined that the site (which had remained relatively unchanged since its launch) needed a major upgrade to effectively meet the ever-changing educational needs and research habits of today's students. This decision came at a time when the need for quality information resources regarding the Holocaust was greater than ever. In August 2005, the Illinois legislature signed House Bill 312 into law, expanding Holocaust and genocide education requirements for Illinois elementary and high school students. Conversely, in December 2005, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first head of state to publicly question the existence of the Holocaust. These events underscored the importance of the Boder interviews as a primary source for Holocaust education, and provided further impetus to renew project activities. The means to pursue this major overhaul were obtained through a combination of grants, donations, and university funding.
The first step in these renewed efforts was to convert the DAT tapes into digital audio files, and to have all of the recordings digitally remastered to improve intelligibility and remove noise and other artifacts caused by the decay of the wire medium over time. This allowed the project to undertake an exhaustive inventory of the recorded material, which led to the exciting discovery of interviews for which no record existed in the known collections of Boder's notes and papers or in the Library of Congress's catalog of the Boder wires. The second step was then to create transcriptions and English translations for almost fifty interviews that were never transcribed by Boder during his lifetime, as well as original-language transcriptions of the seventy that Boder translated into English.
Finally, a new web interface for the project was developed, with features that allow for more meaningful interaction with the text and audio content. The redesign process has been undertaken using established standards and best practices that will allow for both secure worldwide online dissemination and preservation of the material for future generations.
Future Directions When David Boder died in 1961, the important work he began in July of 1946 remained unfinished, with many interviews not transcribed or translated, and his only book of published interviews long since out of print. As of late 2009, all of Boder's 1946 interviews have finally been transcribed and/or translated, and the texts and recordings are fully available to the public. It is our hope that the interactive and dynamic features of the redesigned site bring Boder's efforts to life in a way never before possible, increasing the visibility and impact of the interviews, promoting deeper scholarship and analysis, and ultimately providing a richer understanding of the Holocaust and those who experienced it.
The mission of Voices of the Holocaust project is to provide a permanent digital archive of digitized, restored, transcribed, and translated interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted by Dr. David P. Boder in 1946, so that they can be experienced by a global audience of students, researchers, historians, and the general public.
Dr. Boder interviewed displaced persons in France, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany. The interviewees represented all economic levels, many religions, and various nationalities and language groups from across Europe. His usual approach was to point out that most Americans had a limited knowledge of Nazi atrocities, and that by telling his or her story, the interviewee could contribute to both the education of the American public and the historical record. Boder would often begin by asking the person's name, age, and where they were when the war started, then allowed them to speak at will, without the constraints of preplanned interview questions.
Boder returned to Chicago and with the help of grants from the National Institute of Mental Health transcribed and translated seventy of the interviews into English from 1947-1957. In 1949, edited versions of eight of the interviews were published in I Did Not Interview the Dead (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949). Boder eventually published all seventy of his translations in a set of self-published volumes, under the title Topical Autobiographies of Displaced People Recorded Verbatim in Displaced Persons Camps, With a Psychological and Anthropological Analysis. Boder sent copies of these volumes to dozens of libraries before his death in 1961, though fewer than thirty sets survive today.
The John Crerar Library moved to the University of Chicago in 1985, prompting the renaming and renovation of the building. Previously, the independent Crerar Library had housed IIT's James S. Kemper Library.
This collection includes transcriptions and audio of one hundred eighteen interviews involving one hundred twenty-one interviewees. While Boder's main focus during his time in Europe was interviewing displaced persons, he also recorded other events, including religious services, speeches, and songs sung by choirs or persons in the DP camps. This material is not currently available in this collection, however many of the songs Boder recorded are available elsewhere, including World ORT's Music During the Holocaust and USHMM's Music of the Holocaust exhibits. Boder's wire recordings also contain a number of "aborted" interviews, lasting only a minute or two, which may have been intentionally terminated or accidentally recorded over. These are also not included here, but may be added at some point in the future.
IIT website consulted on 28/12/2022