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About the Collection

Oral Histories: Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust

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.

The survivors recall Berlin during the rise of the Third Reich, Kristallnacht and other anti-Semitic violence, the Warsaw and Lodz ghettoes, and conditions at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and other less-famous concentration camps.

They describe the fates of their families, starting life over again in postwar Europe, and emigrating to the U.S. and Israel. They also discuss being new American immigrants and life in Wisconsin's Jewish communities between 1945 and 1980.

Who was interviewed?

  • 22 survivors, two American witnesses
  • Men and women are equally represented

What do we know about them?

  • The survivors lived all across Europe, from Poland to Greece to Netherlands to the Ukraine
  • Of the two American witnesses, one was a U.S. Army captain who liberated concentration camps and the other was a United Nations administrator who helped resettle survivors
  • Most survivors came from middle-class families, though some were wealthy and some working-class
  • Some survivors' families were devoutly religious and others secular
  • The youngest person interviewed was a toddler and the oldest was in his thirties; most lived through the Holocaust as teenagers

How are the interviews organized?

Testimony Pages

Each person's interview is organized in a testimony page, which features a biography, a summary of the interview contents, audio players for each tape side, and options to download the transcript, audio and pictures. It also contains information about the interview process.

Transcripts

Each testimony has been transcribed and is available in full as a PDF. Each tape side produces approximately 10 transcript pages. Full transcripts range from 30 to 190 pages.

More than 15 different languages appear on the audiotapes. Footnotes and editorial insertions help identify place names, translate German, Polish, Yiddish and other foreign expressions, and provide context not included on the audiotapes.

Flaws in the transcripts are inevitable to some degree. Most contain small gaps due to recording conditions and linguistic complexity. Background noise or low volume levels have made some words inaudible. Most survivors had strong accents and lapsed into native tongue when excited or emotional.

Audio

Each cassette tape has been converted to mp3 digital format. Stream or download any tape side from the links in the Audio and Transcript Information section. Most mp3 files are approximately 15 MB and 25 minutes long. They were converted at 64 kps. The files download over a broadband connection in approximately 30 seconds.

Pictures

More than 200 photographs donated by the survivors are available for viewing. The number per survivor varies. Some survivors provided dozens of images while others provided none at all. Most date from after the war. Only a small percentage of the photographs depict life in Europe, and very few show wartime conditions.

Sensitive Content

We have not censored or suppressed any survivor's recollections. Many interviews contain passages with vivid eyewitness descriptions of horrifying cruelty, which may not be suitable for younger readers and listeners.

Teachers and parents should understand that recollections of life in ghettoes and concentration camps could shock and frighten children who have never before imagined such brutality. Hearing these anecdotes through the actual voice of the person who survived them can be very distressing, especially when the speaker becomes audibly upset.

If an oral history contains highly sensitive passages, we have noted it in the interview summary. It's possible that oral histories without a notice contain distressing information for some listeners.

Educators of older students may find interviews with sensitive content to be particularly effective teaching tools. Most speakers were teenagers when they lived through these terrible events. Teachers of younger students should personally review audio and transcript passages before introducing them to children.

Special Thanks

This digital collection was created through the generous financial support of the Helen Bader Foundation of Milwaukee and private donors. Read acknowledgements.

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