5 Questions About: Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust

We’ve asked creators of non-print and media projects reviewed in the pages of Oral History Review to answer 5 questions about why we should explore them. In our next installment of this series, the co-producers of Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust, a podcast from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, tell us about their project.

Read Jonathan C. Friedman’s review of the Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust podcast, from issue 47.1 of OHR. Podcast producers Eric Marcus, Nahanni Rous, and Stephen Naron were kind enough to answer our questions. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher.

What’s it about and why does it matter?

Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust brings history to life through the voices of the people who lived it by drawing on the priceless recorded interviews from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies with both survivors and witnesses to the 20th-century’s most infamous genocide.

How does oral history contribute to your project?

The 4,400 videotaped testimonies housed in the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University provide a rich resource for creating a podcast. These testimonies were recorded beginning in 1979 and are still being recorded. It was the first project of its kind to capture such testimonies on videotape. Interviews range in length from about 60 minutes to 30 hours (recorded over multiple sessions). For the podcast, we’ve used the audio portion of the recordings in order to craft accessible episodes of 25 to 30 minutes each.

What do you like about using oral history as a methodology?

Recorded oral history offers a direct link to powerful stories that would otherwise be lost to history. Each testimony at the Archive is like a spoken autobiography. The Archive’s methodology gave survivors the opportunity to tell their entire life story from their earliest memories, at their own pace, and in the form and language they preferred. For decades, survivors of and witnesses to the Holocaust shared their experiences to document the atrocities of the Nazis and their allies.  As the generation that lived through the Holocaust dies, these recorded stories become ever more precious and the only direct link to eyewitness accounts.

Why will fellow oral historians be interested in the project?

The podcast we’ve created from videotaped oral histories offers an example of how recorded testimony using one format can be re-purposed for use in a new format to reach new audiences of potential listeners. Podcasts are one of the fastest growing methods for reaching listeners, especially young people, who may not have learned of this history previously.  

What is the one thing that you most want the audience to remember about the project?

The Holocaust is a deeply complex and harrowing topic to approach. The numbers—six million murdered—are, for most people, simply incomprehensible. We hope that what we achieve with this podcast is to make clear that the Holocaust was a real historical event, one that can best be understood by learning that each one of the six million dead was an individual, with a family, loved ones, a profession, a home. Survivors, although the exception, can help represent that loss, effectively replacing an abstraction with personal stories—with one person’s story at a time.