The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies’ predecessor, the Holocaust Survivors Film Project,
began taping testimony of survivors, witnesses and bystanders in New Haven in 1979, thanks to the creativity of
Dr. Dori Laub, himself a child survivor from Czernowitz, Romania, and psychiatrist and analyst, and Laurel Vlock,
a television journalist at Channel 8. They had the support of the New Haven survivor community, particularly of
Willian Rosenberg who would later become the president of the project, as well as many, many other members
of the Jewish community. The collection came to Yale in 1981 thanks to the work of Professor Geoffrey
Hartman, who gave it a permanent home within the Manuscripts and Archives department at Sterling Memorial
Library. Under his watch as Faculty Advisor, it grew to become an internationally renowned collection that over
the years, has influenced the way the history of the Holocaust is written, studied, and taught.
There are more than 4,400 testimonies in the Fortunoff Video Archive. 12,000 hours of recorded material in
over a dozen languages, recorded over the last 40 years in over a dozen different countries. That is 4,400 life
stories. I call them life stories, because our interview methodology asks survivors to recount their entire history –
– from their earliest childhood memories to the present. We consider it essential to know what life was like
before the Holocaust, if we seek to understand the scope of the loss, and the complexity of each individual’s
attempt to recover – to the extent possible — and build a life in the postwar period.
The songs and poems you are about to hear were sung or recounted in a number of testimonies and reflect the
richness of these documents. They are songs from the interwar period and from the ghettos, and the camps.
Originally, these songs were sung individually and collectively, but in survivors’ testimonies they are recounted
or performed by individuals. They thus remind us that the survivor singing them represents all those who did not
survive to sing again, and remind us of the absence of the original audience.
The Fortunoff Archive’s faculty advisor, Professor Timothy Snyder, notes that testimonies, like works of art, have
a special ability to cross the membrane between death and life, between past and present. The singing of these
songs can’t happen in a written source. They can only happen in a visual or an audio source. The recording you
are about to hear is a reading of testimony as a source, perhaps an unconventional reading, but a reading
nonetheless. Some of the songs you will hear are about dying and death, written and sung in the camps. This
effort to recall them – part anthropological, part ethnomusicological, part historical – also recreates them. And
my hope is that this recreation will form a link between the people who are no longer living and the living, all of
us listening to this recording.