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Apr 2005 Journal

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Future generations to hear 'Refugee Voices'

AJR-sponsored Testimony and Archive projects secured

Leading researchers and former refugees agreed to benefit from closer co-operation and the exchange of information in recording refugee and survivor testimonies for posterity. This first conference, dedicated to advancing the collection of refugee video and audio archives, was initiated and organised by the AJR and hosted by the Jewish Museum in London.

Each of the participating institution's projects, whether in a university department, library, museum, archive or study centre, had benefited from the support of the AJR's ongoing Educational and Cultural programmes. The creation and availability of the results of their research will ensure that, to generations of scholars and others, these testimonies will stand for all time as living witnesses of the experiences of ordinary people who, dispossessed of their homes and families in Nazi Europe, made new lives for themselves in Britain.

The 30 delegates to the conference, who were welcomed by the Director of the Jewish Museum, Rickie Burman, included leading academics, authors, researchers, curators, archivists and experts in electronic archives, testimony interviewers, librarians, film-makers and project directors, at the forefront of refugee studies in Britain. They represented the Universities of Manchester, Leeds and Sussex, the Wiener Library, National Sound Archives, the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre, the Jewish Museum and the AJR's own in-house audio-visual testimony project. Especially welcome were a number of refugees who appeared in the associated Refugee Voices film, among them Professor Peter Pulzer, Arieh Handler and Max Abraham.

The conference opened with the first public presentation of the film Testimonies and Archives, produced and directed by Dr Bea Lewkowicz for the AJR. Interviewees progressed the film's narrative with their varied accounts, bringing a new and vivid dimension to the recording of life experiences. Dr Lewkowicz regarded this project as complementing much larger but less focused collections such as those of the National Sound Archives, the Shoah Foundation and the Imperial War Museum. The film's considerable potential as an educational resource was well appreciated.

Dr Anthony Grenville, the project's Director, reported that 90 testimonies out of 120 had already been secured by the core team of interviewers. Refugee Voices had sought to capture the whole refugee experience and to obtain a broad representation of the refugee experience from a wide range of backgrounds and geographical origins Those represented also included camp survivors, hidden children, refugees reaching Siberia and Shanghai, and men who served in the Palestine Brigade.

Begun in 1997 with very limited resources by the Leeds Holocaust Survivors Friendship Association, Trude Silman reported, the Making a New Life in Yorkshire project had been placed in the hands of the University of Leeds. The financial support received from the AJR was a key element in achieving a far more professional result. Brett Harrison, consultant archivist, said that in addition to the in-depth interviews held with survivors, their team collected the full range of documents, photographs and artifacts to complement the recorded interviews, all to be lodged in the University's Brotherton Library. Jennifer Wingate reminded the conference that the National Sound Archive had commenced audio recordings in 1988 and currently held a library of 600 interviews.

Professor Edward Timms spoke in appreciation of the beneficial relationship the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at Sussex had developed over the years with the AJR. Dr Andrea Hammel and Samira Teuteberg described the Centre's creation of 'a giant list of all material available on the subject', encompassing the private papers of refugees from Germany as well as the major collections, as a much-needed research tool for future scholars. Their team was travelling to all parts of Britain, often having to overcome the initial reluctance of a librarian unaware of the value of the collections they possessed.

Sarah Jillings, Curator at the Jewish Museum, explained that their collections were continually being added to as a consequence of new exhibitions, including the Continental Britons exhibition about the German-speaking refugee community. The Last Goodbye, a travelling exhibition and teaching pack on the Kindertransport, remained in constant demand from schools.

Katharina Huebschmann, Senior Librarian at the Wiener Library, recalled the Library's history and unique collection begun by Dr Wiener in Germany in 1934, which reached safety in London before the outbreak of war in 1939. She referred specifically to the Phillipp Manes collection, a uniquely preserved record of existence and cultural life in Theresienstadt, and to the Kindertransport collection based on papers from their reunions. The Library was now undertaking the cataloguing of some 3,000 periodicals - dating back to 1938!

An ambitious scheme to encourage Holocaust education among primary schoolchildren was introduced by Steve Robinson, Project Manager at Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire. With a worryingly high incidence of racism among primary schools in Mansfield and Nottingham, Beth Shalom had determined to counter this trend with a new primary learning centre. It would present a challenge to racism largely by telling the story of the Kindertransport. The children would relive the Kinder's experiences in The Journey: leaving home, travelling alone and arriving in a strange land.

The conference concluded with an open forum at which it was agreed to plan a similar gathering next year.
Ronald Channing

previous article:Racism: squaring the circle
next article:RICHARD GRUNBERGER 1924-2005