With some 300 interviews in its collection--more than 100 of which are online at http://holocaust.umd.umich.edu--the Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive at the University of Michigan-Dearborn is a resource that’s useful to people around the world.
“Having interviews available online 24 hours a day, seven days a week offers unprecedented accessibility to our collection,” said Jamie Wraight, curator and historian of the Archive. “It’s what sets us apart from other Holocaust survivor oral history projects. People can hear the personal stories of Holocaust survivors, in their own voices, no matter where in the world they are.”
A group of ninth-grade students in Washington state recently used the Archive’s accessibility to help them complete a class project, turning the online oral histories into storybooks for children.
With the Archive’s survivor testimonies as inspiration, students at Cavelero Mid High in Everett, Wash. created more than 20 children’s stories about the Holocaust. With titles like “The Adventures of Bunny the Rabbit,” “Abe and the Talking Pumpkin,” “Motzi the Mouse” and “Pauline and the Big Bad Bears,” the students relied on symbolism to make the tragic tales more palatable to kids.
For instance in “The Adventures of Bunny the Rabbit,” a bunny is tricked into going to a pet shop, which represents a concentration camp. In “Abe and the Talking Pumpkin,” Abe is taken from the pumpkin patch, which symbolizes his hometown, and ends up at a grocery store, which represents a concentration camp.
The students’ English teacher, Linda Fredin, professionally bound into books all the stories and sent them to the Archive to forward the books to the survivors who inspired the tales.
Survivor Irene Butter, a U-M professor emeritus of public health, was impressed with how the students studied the stories in depth, gaining an understanding before writing their books.
“The students used imagination and ingenuity to find symbols in the Holocaust experiences of survivors and transform them into more benign concepts, comprehensible to young children,” said Butter, who was a teenager when her family was deported first to the transit camp Westerbork and then to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February 1944. “When I received the three books that were written about my story I was amazed and thrilled. I treasure these books and the compassionate letters addressed to me by the students.”
The student project made an impression on Wraight, too. “These books speak volumes about the quality of our collection and show the Archive’s supporters that their generosity sustains not only the work of the archive, but also allows teachers like Ms. Fredin to offer Holocaust education to their students that embrace the voices of those who survived,” Wraight said.
Librarian Barbara Kriigel agrees. “Other oral history collections exist but not on the Web,” Kriigel noted. “Kids are comfortable with technology and the Internet. That’s why we do this. We’re doing it for future generations. Someday, the survivors will be gone but this Archive will live forever.”
The Archive is working with Fredin to determine whether or not copies of the students’ books can be added to the UM-Dearborn collection.
“What a treasure it would be to have all these books in one collection,” Wraight said.
Jennifer Thelen writes for the U-M News Service.