A quest to save stories of Shoah's survivors
Prof. Saul Friedlander of UCLA and Claims Conference Chairman Julius Berman announce project to collect unpublished memoirs of Holocaust survivors for new online collection. (Courtesy: The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.)
Before going to sleep, Roman Kents children used to ask him to tell them stories about his life. Their favorite tale was the one about Lala, the dogged pet that found its way to the Jewish ghetto where Kents family was living after being taken away from their home by the Nazis.
Decades after the end of World War II, Kent is preparing to tell his story all over again, this time to anyone who has Internet access. He is one of thousands of Holocaust survivors who, thanks to a recent effort to collect survivor memoirs worldwide, will be able to contribute to and access an electronic collection of first-hand survival accounts.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which works to secure compensation and restitution for victims of Nazism and is leading these efforts, has begun asking survivors in 75 countries to submit previously unpublished or unavailable memoirs to its newly established database.
We are appealing to survivors around the world to write their stories so that decades from now people will know what happened to you and your families, said Julius Berman, the conferences chairman.
The Worldwide Shoah Memoirs Collection, as the effort is known, was announced today by Saul FriedlÃ¤nder, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning book The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945. FriedlÃ¤nder, a survivor himself, hid in a Catholic boarding school in France during the German occupation of 1940-1944. His parents were gassed in Auschwitz.
The effort to collect these memoirs is enormously timely, said Gideon Taylor, executive vice -president of the conference. More thanOver 60 years after the end of the Holocaust, many survivors are elderly.
We face a very narrow window of time to gather memoirs by survivors, he said.Part of the endeavor is reaching out to institutions and organizations and, through them, to the Holocaust survivors community, said Taylor. To broaden the efforts scope, submissions will be accepted in all languages and, while electronic documents are preferred, typed submissions are also accepted.
The conferences priority is to collect accounts that are not being saved somewhere else but it will also accept works published elsewhere, which would be able to remain in both places.
The collected materials will first be made accessible to organizations and scholars involved in Holocaust research and documentation and, eventually, to the general public. This to ensure that the historical accuracy and integrity of the submissions are confirmed before publication, said Taylor.
As time goes on, we will work on making it public, he said, but that will take time. What we dont have time for is to gather the information.
Joseph Rosenbaum, 85, received a letter from the conference organizers last month. His memoir, which he had tried to publish for years, had reached the conference board and they wanted to include it in their database.
Rosenbaum, who was born in Radom, Poland in 1922, survived the Holocaust thanks to his mother, who gave him her work document as Ukranian and German soldiers were taking those without it away. In his memoir, Rosenbaum documents this moment.
As the selection went on, she was the first of our family to walk away, he wrote. His mother was followed by his brothers wife and her two children, his two sisters and brother-in-law. The little group passed the gate and headed on foot toward Majdanek concentration camp. He never saw them again.
In October of last year Phil Rosenbaum typed his fathers memoir, all 50 pages of it, and posted it on a blog. I hope that this time they will publish it, said Rosenbaum, who began writing about his experiences during the Holocaust in 1985.
To Roman Kent, whose memoirs will be published by Vantage Press, producing this chronicle is a testament to those who perished and those who survived, but it is also a way to help prevent the genocide that is taking place around the world.
If we forget we bury the conscience of human kind together with the six million who perished during the Holocaust, said Kent, whose faithful dog Lala eventually was confiscated by the Germans. By the end of the Holocaust, he and his brother were the only members of their family still alive. Survivors cannot be bystanders, Kent said. We must be involved.
For more information on the collection and instructions for submission, visit http://memoirs.claimscon.org.
-- Sandra Larriva