Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust is the only podcast dedicated to sharing the history of the Holocaust through the first-hand testimonies of survivors and witnesses. The podcast draws on recorded interviews from Yale University’s Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, which comprises the oral histories of over 4,000 people. It took incredible courage for these individuals to revisit their memories of Nazi-occupied Europe and provide testimony to the Fortunoff Video Archive; it is our duty to listen and share, so that the horrific events of the Holocaust do not fade from memory.
Season three of the series, “Remembering Vilna: The Jerusalem of Lithuania,” is a joint production of the Fortunoff Video Archive and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City. The 10-part audio documentary brings to life the story of Vilna’s Jewish community—before, during, and right after World War II— through the vivid recorded testimony of Holocaust survivors and excerpts from a diary that was kept by the librarian of the Vilna ghetto.
Preview: Into the Stacks at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
"We’re here to explore YIVO’s extraordinary archive, which we’ll be drawing from as we create an audio portrait of Vilna through the voices of the people who were there.”Listen and read more
Witnesses featured in the series
Haim BassokHaim Bassok was born in Vilna on June 16, 1923. During the war, he escaped the Vilna ghetto and joined the partisans. In 1947, Bassok immigrated to Israel, where he studied law and, in 1953, married Nechama Ben-Dov. Read More
Samuel BakSamuel Bak was born in Vilna on August 12, 1933. He was an artistically gifted child; his work was first exhibited, in the Vilna ghetto, when he was nine years old. Bak and his mother were the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust. Read More
William BegellWilliam Begell was born Wilhelm Beigel in Vilna on May 18, 1927. With the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto in 1943, Begell was sent to the local HKP labor camp along with his mother and grandmother. Read More
Mira BergerMira Berger (née Kanishtshiker) was born on April 5, 1920, in Vilna. After the war, she moved to Italy, where in 1946 she married Gustav Berger. Read More
Arie Liebke DistalArie Liebke Distal was born on November 26, 1922, in Vilna. Shortly after the war, he moved to Israel, where in the late 1950s he met his wife, Hela. Read More
Yitzhak DugimYitzhak Dugim was born in Vilna on August 4, 1916. After the liquidation of the Jewish ghetto, he was forced to work at Ponar, the site of the mass murder of thousands of ... Read More
Henny Durmashkin GurkoHenny Gurko (née Durmashkin) was born into a prominent musical family in Vilna on November 16, 1923. During the war, she was deported from the Vilna ghetto to Kaiserwald, the first in a series of concentration camps where she was subjected to forced labor. Read More
Wiera GoldmanWiera Goldman (née Shoag) was born in Vilna on February 28, 1921. After the war, she moved to the U.S., settling in Cleveland with her husband, Samuel Goldman, and their children. Read More
Herman KrukHerman Kruk was born in the central Polish city of Plock on May 19, 1897. During the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, he fled from Warsaw to Vilna, where, after the formation of the Jewish ghetto, he organized a library and became its librarian. Read More
Zenia MaleckiZenia Malecki (née Berkon) was born in Vilna on July 31, 1921. During the occupation, she worked with the United Partisan Organization alongside her parents, smuggling food into the Vilna ghetto.... Read More
Nisan ResnickNisan Resnick was born in Yekaterinoslav, Russian Empire (now Dnipro, Ukraine), on June 22, 1918. During the Nazi occupation, he was a partisan and member of the Jewish underground in Vilna. Read More
Mira VerbinMira Verbin (née Swecki) was born in Vilna on October 25, 1919. During the occupation, she joined the United Partisan Organization, the Vilna ghetto resistance. She was the only one of her immediate family to survive the war. Read More
Abram ZeleznikovAbram Zeleznikov was born in Vilna on May 25, 1924. In 1943, he escaped the ghetto of Vilna through more than 30 miles of sewers and joined the United Partisan Organization, a Jewish resistance group first formed in the ghetto. Read More
Sheila ZwanySheila Zwany (née Oszmian) was born in Vilna on January 5, 1921. She and her family hid from the Nazis during the war. Sometime after the war, Zwany settled in the U.S. with her husband, Sam Bezprozwany, with whom she had two sons. Read More
"And there was really no place to go. But my grandfather always contended that you don’t do anything. You stay put because, after all, he used to say, “Es iz nisht keyn hefke velt.” He meant that life had an orderly way of being conducted and that people who did nothing wrong need not be afraid of anything."Listen and read more
"I had seen an advertisement, that a big, big, big, more than a farm is looking for help. And, um, I wrote them a letter. Same story: we lost our parents, we have vacation, and we would like to work in our vacation, but only when, if I can bring my sister."Listen and read more
"We marched for days and days, and my older sister said she can’t march anymore, and a couple of times, she said she’s going to stop, she’s not going on. And there were a lot of people who did, and they shot them on the road. She said, “I don’t care if they shoot me, I’m not going anymore.” And at that point, she sat down on the side of the road, and, uh, my other sister and myself, we stayed with her."Listen and read more
"I remember hiding in a cellar, and we were very, very quiet as the German troops were entering the city. And a baby started crying, and there was a candle on the windowsill. The windows were closed. In order for the Germans not to hear the baby cry, the mother was stifling the baby. And then a candle burnt, went out, and people were beginning to say that there was no air. Obviously, we could not stay anymore, and we ran somewhere."Listen and read more
"I was born in Salonika, Greece, on March 30, 1932. My mother’s family was, uh, Spanish. And, uh, it was agreed between the Spaniards and the Germans that, uh, my mother, my brother, and myself would be spared if the Spaniards would give us a visa to go to Spain. Uh, however, in order for us to be able to achieve this, we had to escape from Salonika into Athens"Listen and read more
"They opened the doors and we saw prisoners. They had striped uniform and a striped cap on it. And they were whispering, “Let the children go, let your children go,” in Jewish. We didn’t understand it. Why? Some people did; some people, some mothers would not let their children go, that’s for sure. Well, get off the train, I was holding my little sister’s hand, one of the younger sister hand."Listen and read more
Introducing “Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust”
Meet host Eleanor Reissa and hear excerpts of upcoming episodes featuring first-hand accounts of the Holocaust—drawn from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University.Listen and read more
"One of the things I remember as a child coming out, I felt I had to tell the world what was happening. So, I remember the first few months in the yeshiva I would speak freely. I would tell the kids everything. I would tell my rabbi what happened and so on.
"Then one day, we went out on recess and one of the kids got a hold of me. We were all in a circle. And he said, 'Why don't you tell one of your bullshit stories.' And from that day on—this was 1946, '47—I did not say a word, I would say, till about five, seven years ago."Listen and read more
"Can you imagine? I put in three years of my life, put it on the line to make it possible for people like that young lady and that manager or whoever owned that store to function and enjoy the rights and privileges of Americans, and they were saying to me, just like the Nazis did, just like they told me down in the South, what they told my father, 'Leon, you're not good enough.'"Listen and read more
"And they let us get out of the train to bring some water—the young people. So they said, 'Out and get the water.' And I remember how we got out of the train and there was some, a pile of gravel. And there was this beautiful flower growing out of this mess. And it was a purple, beautiful, gorgeous flower. And I thought, This is the last flower I'm going to see."Listen and read more
"My sister came to get me because the communications were bad. She says they were killing Jewish people. They killed, at the time, some people in Kielce. And, um, my sister came to tell me that we have to get out of the small towns, because they were killing the Jewish people. This was after the war."Listen and read more
"We lived on the fourth floor in the apartment. And my parents were both deaf. And I had a deaf sister. So I became the ears. I would have to warn them that the transport was coming. And what I would do is we would all rush in the back room. And when they knocked on the door, we didn’t answer. We were in the back room just trying to be as quiet as possible. And we used to live in terror of these boots."Listen and read more
"I drove there, and when I arrived, an incredible sight greeted me. You can imagine that a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division is a fairly hardened individual. However, when I came into this concentration camp, I must say that, to this day— and this was many years ago—an incredible and really undescribable disgust, a feeling, a mixture of horror, repulsion... I am not good enough in utilizing any language to describe this adequately."Listen and read more
Celia Kassow — Part 1
"I can’t begin to tell it because what it meant to be in hiding. The guy made a hole under the floor in the barn. The hole consisted of maybe as wide as I was—two feet—and as long as I was. You couldn’t turn. If you crawled in on your stomach, you remained on your stomach. If you crawled in on your back, you remained on your back. Sometimes, when it was quiet, he would pull me out by my legs and give me a chance to straighten up my bones, and give me a little food."Listen and read more
Celia Kassow — Part 2
"They wanted me to work in the kitchen, being a Jew and being a girl. They told me to dissect a pig. When I looked at that, and I started doing it, I fainted flat. I couldn’t do it. I said, 'I’m volunteering for the patrol.' They used to call it razvedka. They say, 'You? A Jewish girl in the patrol?' I say, 'Yes.' I was given a horse. I was given ammunition. And I was given an assignment."Listen and read more
Meet Our Production Team
Eric Marcus is the co-producer of “Those Who Were There.” He is also founder and host of the award-winning “Making Gay History” podcast, which mines his decades-old audio archive of rare interviews. He conducted these interviews for his oral history book of the same name about the LGBTQ civil rights movement to create intimate, personal portraits of both known and long-forgotten champions, heroes, and witnesses to history. Eric’s other books include "Is It a Choice?," "Why Suicide?," and "Breaking the Surface," the #1 New York Times bestselling autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis.
Stephen Naron has worked as an archivist/librarian since 2003, when he received his MSIS from the University of Texas, Austin. He pursued a Magister in Jewish studies and History at the Freie Universität Berlin and the Zentrum für Antisemistismusforschung at TU Berlin. He has a BA in history from the University of Kansas. As the director of the Fortunoff Video Archive, Stephen works within the wider research community to share access to our collection through the access site program and online consortia programs, as well as by presenting at conferences, symposiums, and sessions of Yale University classes. Stephen is also responsible for spearheading initiatives such as the digital preservation of the collection and the development of a modern access system for the archive’s materials.
Nahanni Rous is the co-producer of “Those Who Were There.” She hosts and produces “Can We Talk?,” the podcast of the Jewish Women’s Archive. “Can We Talk?” explores the intersection of gender, Jewish culture, and history. Nahanni is also senior producer of "Making Gay History," a podcast based on Eric Marcus's decades-old audio archive of interviews with LGBTQ activists. Nahanni was also a founding staff member of the media organization Just Vision, which highlights the grassroots efforts of Palestinian and Israeli peacebuilders and nonviolence activists. She was a producer of Just Vision’s documentary film, "Encounter Point."
Eleanor Reissa is a Tony-nominated director, international concert artist, award-winning playwright, and Broadway actor whose work lives happily in both English and Yiddish. Her recent work includes co-creating, directing, and performing in "From Shtetl to Stage," a celebration of Eastern European immigration to the United States as part of Carnegie Hall’s “Migrations” series. As an actress, her most recent credits include roles in HBO’s miniseries "The Plot Against America," based on Philip Roth’s novel, and Paula Vogel’s "Indecent" on Broadway, as well as the role of Dr. Gorgeous in Wendy Wasserstein’s "The Sisters Rosensweig." She performed her new program “Kurt Weill in New York” at the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, Germany. She is also awaiting publication of a memoir titled "The Letters Project" about an eye-opening trip to Germany during which she learned everything she might have wanted to know about the Holocaust and more. In the spring of 2020, she will direct Paddy Chayefsky’s "The Tenth Man," which she co-translated into Yiddish, for the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Eleanor is the daughter of Holocaust survivors.