Jul 2007 Journal

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Making a New Life Project: Holocaust survivors in Yorkshire

For three years a collaboration between researchers at the University of Leeds and the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association (HSFA), set up in 1996 to bring together the now ageing and scattered Holocaust survivors, has been documenting their extraordinary lives as much after the Holocaust as before and during its terrible years.

Using in-depth interviews to record the full range of experiences of ‘making a new life’ as an immigrant from a world lost in the destruction that was the Holocaust, the project has also been given a wealth of documents that build our picture of what was left behind, what was brought here, and what was made in this new life in Britain.

This May, an event took place to mark the handing over of the archive so far accumulated to the safe-keeping of the Special Collections of Leeds University’s Brotherton Library.

A small selection of the documents was exhibited in the Brotherton Room to indicate the wealth of material for social histories and the continuing study of all dimensions of the Holocaust as an event with continuing repercussions for the survivors, their families and our societies.

The core of the archive comprises interview tapes, related transcripts and associated papers of members of the HSFA. There are over 80 tapes of personal testimony with individuals and, more recently, interviews of survivors brought together for the first time. Over 1,000 images from personal photograph collections have been scanned and added to these in-depth interviews.

A database of over 90 names of former refugees who have made a new life in Yorkshire has been compiled. A few large collections of personal papers are the bulk of the archive. The largest consists of some six boxes of papers left upon the death of Edith Culman which includes a box of her husband Emil’s papers and a further box of their correspondence over 30 years with their son Emanuel in the USA. Smaller but by no means less significant original collections relate to John Chillag, Ernest Millet, Rudi Leavor and Helga Anysz.

The project has involved the Centre for Jewish Studies (founded 1995); the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History (CentreCATH, founded 2001) at the University of Leeds; and the HSFA of Yorkshire.

The research has been generously funded by the Association of Jewish Refugees, the Arnold Ziff Foundation and the Julius Silman Foundation.

The research team includes Professor Griselda Pollock, Brett Harrison, Dr Amanda Bergen and Bernice Shooman.

The inspiration and drive behind the project come from the first Chair of the HSFA, Trude Silman, and the many members who started it off by sharing their stories. It has also been supported by volunteers Janet Friedman, Barbara Cammerman and Hilary Curwen.

Ruth Taylor, University of Leeds

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