Leo Baeck 2


Refugee Voices

The AJR's groundbreaking audio-visual Holocaust testimony archive, Refugee Voices, was launched at an event at the Wiener Library on 18 June 2009. 

The event was organised into two sessions: part one featured papers and presentations about refugees, AJR and Refugee Voices given by speakers including Tony Grenville and Bea Lewkowicz. Part two was the evening event which was more informal and was exclusively to launch Refugee Voices, and where the resource was demonstrated.

As well as hearing from the noted Holocaust historians Professor Tony Kushner from Southampton University and Dr Olaf Jensen from the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust Studies at the University of Leicester, guests also heard from the Refugee Voices Directors Dr Bea Lewkowicz and the AJR’s Dr Tony Grenville.

AJR Chairman, Andrew Kaufman, told those present that in creating Refugee Voices the AJR wanted to capture our members’ experiences and that, “unless we acted quickly we were approaching a point when those testimonies - those witness statements - would be lost forever.” In so doing he noted that the AJR had created, “an innovative resource that would enable future generations to study and learn about a part of history that has had profound consequences for how we live today.”

In addition to the Wiener Library, the AJR is delighted to announce that this valuable collection will also be deposited at the Universities of Leeds and Leicester as well as the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris. We are also thrilled that visitors to the German Historical Institute London will have access to the material. We also hope to announce partnerships with further institutions over the coming months.

To coincide with the launch we created the Refugee Voices website at www.refugeevoices.co.uk where visitors can read more about the project and watch excerpts from some of the 450 hours of film archive.

Project overview

‘Refugee Voices’ is a collection of 150 filmed interviews with former refugees from Nazism now living in Britain. It was commissioned by the Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) in 2003, with Dr Anthony Grenville and Dr Bea Lewkowicz directing the project. The collection consists of more than 450 hours of film and will form a very valuable resource for academics, researchers, educationalists and others with a professional interest in the field of refugee, migration and Holocaust studies. The collection has been designed precisely with the requirements of scholars and other professionals in mind.

All interviews have been fully transcribed and catalogued enabling a researcher to be able to see an interview and then to read a transcript of the words spoken in it, or vice versa. For ease of reference, both the films and the transcripts are time-coded, making it possible to locate specific passages with a minimum of effort. Accompanying the collection is a comprehensive database, containing an index of the interviews and details of the interviewees and their life stories. The interviews are being catalogued with 44 separate categories including place of birth, parents’ details, manner of emigration, prisons/camps, profession etc, thus providing a wealth of information to researchers, who can easily locate information relevant to a multitude of specific areas of interest, such as Kindertransportees, domestic servants, internment on the Isle of Man, and interviewees from specific places. The majority of interviewees were born in Berlin [31] and Vienna [24].

Each interview is accompanied by still shots of photos of family members and friends, places of importance for the interviewee and of other items or documents of special significance in the interviewee’s life. These filmed photographs, artefacts, and documents provide a rich source of images for educational or documentary purposes.

In addition to exploring the contribution to Britain made by the refugees, the interviews cover the wide range of experiences of survivors including an interview with a survivor smuggled to safety from Denmark to Sweden, the testimony of a woman who was ‘exchanged’ from Bergen Belsen to Switzerland and an interview with the last person alive today who was present at the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The archive also features interviews with survivors who have rarely spoken about their experiences. 

Unlike other collections, Refugee Voices includes interviews with survivors and refugees with contrasting experiences during the Second World War, from those incarcerated in ghettos or concentration camps as well as hidden child, Kindertransport and former slave labourers.

A truly national collection, the project includes interviews with survivors and refugees living throughout Great Britain. As well as recording for history the experiences of refugees, the project seeks to draw out how refugees and survivors adapted to life in Britain and, most importantly, their contribution to this country. The success and achievements of interviewees varies considerably and ranges from a milkman to a double-Oscar winner. Also included are interviews with those who fled to Shanghai or Palestine, one with a refugee who was shipped to Denmark from Sweden as well as members of the orthodox community, who have rarely spoken about their experiences.

Themes explored in the project include: Living in Nazi Germany; Living in the surrounding countries; Escape; Arriving in a new country; Learning a new language; Leaving relatives; Learning to live with the past; Internment; Life in Britain during the war; and Britain post war. Additional themes that can be explored in more depth include: Learning about different experiences; Diversity in the communities around us; and Understanding refugees.

To help promote the resource we have produced a 40 minute film called Moments and Memories which gives a taster of Refugee Voices. The film takes excerpts from 13 of the interviews and helps frame the project. To order a copy of Moments and Memories, click here.