The Fortunoff Video Archive for holocaust testimonies

The Fortunoff Video Archive for holocaust testimonies – Special Issue: American Film and Television Archives

Joanne W. Rudolf

In 1979, Holocaust survivors living in the greater New Haven, Connecticut area encouraged the founding of an organization to record their eyewitness testimonies. The Holocaust Survivors Film Project resulted. Principal organizers were William Rosenberg – head of a local survivors’ organization, Laurel F. Vlock – a television specialist, and Dori Laub – a child survivor and psychiatrist. By 1981, some 200 testimonies had been recorded. Through the efforts of Yale University’s late president A. Bartlett Giamatti and Professor Geoffrey Hartman, the collection was deposited at Yale. Following the receipt of a start-up grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, which continues its support, the Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies opened to the public on 1 October 1982. A generous gift to endowment by Alan M. Fortunoff in November of 1987 established the Video Archive permanently at Yale, and it is named in memory of his parents, Max and Clara Fortunoff.

Housed in Sterling Memorial Library, Yale’s main research library, the Fortunoff Video Archive holdings comprise over 3500 witness accounts totalling at least 8000 hours. The testimonies average two hours in length although some are considerably longer. The collection includes the accounts of any person who lived under Nazi occupation or witnessed its results: camp survivors, partisans, those in hiding, rescuers, bystanders, liberators, and veterans.

Individual survivor testimonies edited to twenty-five to forty minutes in length and thematically related excerpts of several witnesses have been prepared for educational use. A descriptive list of these video programs is available from the Fortunoff Video Archive and they are available on a loan basis to schools and community groups.

Records for over 800 testimonies have been entered into a national bibliographic database, the Research Libraries Information Network: Archives and Manuscripts Control file (RLIN-AMC). These records are also available through Yale’s online public access catalog. Cataloging includes geographic names, subject headings, and a testimony summary of approximately 200 words. The databases can be searched using subject and geographic headings. Boolean searching (combining terms with ‘and, or, not’) can be employed as can keyword searching. This provides scholars and researchers with the ability to broaden or narrow searches to suit specific interests and needs. Both databases are available through the Internet. Information is also available at ‘’.

The Guide to Yale University Library Holocaust Video Testimonies, 2nd edn, was published in 1994 and includes records for 567 testimonies. It is divided into three sections: a summary of each testimony; an index of witnesses listed by first name and last initial; and an index of geographic, subject headings and names of historical figures. It can be purchased from the Fortunoff Video Archive.

Printed information available from the Fortunoff Video Archive includes brochures and newsletters (published bi-annually).

Time-coded abstracts for the testimonies are available in the Fortunoff Video Archive and permit viewers to precisely locate relevant portions of the testimonies for their research. All finding aids are in English. Although the majority of the testimonies are in English, witness accounts in other languages include French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Ladino, Polish, Rumanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and Yiddish. The testimonies are unpublished, primary source materials and authorization to publish excerpts or to quote from the testimonies must be obtained from the Yale University Library through the Fortunoff Video Archive.

The testimonies may be viewed by appointment at the Fortunoff Video Archive in Sterling Memorial Library (Room 331-C). Patrons not presently affiliated with Yale must register with the Sterling Memorial Library Privileges Office. The staff will provide reference assistance. Staff members are Joanne W. Rudof – Archivist, L. Christopher Burns – Manager, Anna Getselman and Debra Bush – Archives Assistants, and Professor Geoffrey Hartman – Faculty Advisor. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. through 4:45 p.m. The mailing address is Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University, Box 208240, New Haven, CT 06520-8240. The phone number is 203.432.1879. The email address is JOANNE.RUDOLF@YALE.EDU.

Videotaping is ongoing, and taping appointments are available for any witness willing to share their story. The testimonies are recorded in a television studio on the Yale campus. Volunteer interviewers attend an eight-week training program and annual refresher courses at Yale. Over thirty affiliate projects have contributed testimonies to the collection. Yale provides interviewer training to institutions formally affiliated with the Fortunoff Video Archive. The affiliate project testimonies become part of the collection and are cataloged and preserved by Yale. Video Archive staff actively work with the affiliate projects to assure the highest quality, both technically and in terms of inter-viewing.

In addition to projects throughout the USA, affiliate projects have taped witness testimonies in the following countries: Argentina, Belgium, Belarus, Bolivia, Britain, Canada, France, Greece, Israel, Poland, Ukraine, and the former Yugoslavia. Large numbers of testimonies have been recorded in the USA by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Holocaust Education Foundation of Illinois, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust (New York City).

The interviews are shaped by the witnesses who are asked to relate their earliest memories and postwar experiences as well as the events of the Holocaust. They are unique and personal documents. By giving voice and face to the survivor, history is personalized. One of the great values of the testimonies lies in their very subjectivity. It is difficult to understand 6 million; but one person’s story is not only comprehensible, but truly moving. We see a person who could be a grandparent, a neighbor – someone with whom we can identify. This aspect of the testimonies is vital for education. We can, at least, try to understand one person’s story, one person’s loss.

Collectively the testimonies form a genre which needs critical viewing and analysis. Lawrence L. Langer, a well-known scholar of Holocaust literature, spent six years viewing testimonies in the Fortunoff Video Archive. The resulting publication, Holocaust Testimonies: the ruins of memory (Yale University Press, 1991), was placed on the New York Times Book Review list of the ten best books of 1991 and it received the National Book Critics Circle Award that year. Langer provides a crucial intellectual framework and insight for those interested in the genre. Others have integrated research based on this collection into many publications.

Video Archive staff have read papers at numerous conferences and written many publications. They actively participate in a local Holocaust Education/Prejudice Reduction Program which serves all public and private schools in the greater New Haven area. The staff also cooperates with Yale and other university faculty who want to include viewing testimonies in their courses.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Carfax Publishing Co.

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