Six million Jews were victims of the Holocaust. During World War II, Nazi Germany, its allies and collaborators killed nearly two out of every three European Jews and millions more. Those who survived are now in their 80s.
On March 9, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC is offering a free live virtual program to residents of Vermont and New England about opportunities to preserve their family’s Holocaust history. Mary Engisch of the RVP spoke with Zachary Levine, the museum’s Director of Archives and Curatorial, about the urgency of collecting stories from survivors. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Engisch: The museum asks to save the stories of Holocaust survivors specifically from people in our region. Why the states of Vermont and New England? Can you tell us more about this?
Zachary Levine: So in terms of Vermont and the Northeast region, we’ve been collecting since before the museum opened. And we have a handful of materials made from it. And we are now moving to get more.
We have collected in the North East in the past, but this is the first time that we have made a truly concerted effort for the whole of the North East. From Vermont, we have collected from 31 donors in the past and acquired 46 different collections. You know, if you take all the newspapers, movies, oral histories, it’s a little over 100 altogether. And it’s similar for Maine, New Hampshire and a little more for Massachusetts.
More from RVP: Survivors and Witnesses: Vermonters Commemorate the Jewish Holocaust
But you know, it’s a major resource. We hope to tell the stories of survivors and victims of families currently living in the area. When survivors are no longer able to share their stories themselves, the artifacts and collections we possess will be the most authentic teachers of that story. This becomes critically important as the truth about the Holocaust comes under increasing attack.
So how will this work? How will you go about collecting and then preserving the stories of survivors?
Thus, the museum collects artifacts, films, photographs, documents and much more to create this collection of evidence of the Holocaust.
The March 9 program – which will be a live virtual event – is designed specifically for the New England region. This event will include a number of museum staff from our National Holocaust Documentation Institute, including curators and representatives from our Resource Center for Holocaust Survivors and Victims.
In both cases, they will present materials from our collection and talk about the kinds of resources we offer to survivors and their descendants so they can learn more about this story and its impact on their families and their place in this story. . And so what we’re asking them to do is to consider donating their family’s artifacts from that era.
The event will be fascinating. This will give the public an insight into the incredible materials we have in our collection, as well as the wonderful resources families can use to discover their own story, their place in that story, and learn much more about that story, and its parallels in the present.
So you give Vermonters the opportunity to donate artifacts to the museum. I’m curious how this works, especially for some survivors who haven’t told their families about the Holocaust.
These are incredibly difficult conversations to have, for many. The survivors who are still with us are over 80 years old, and our role in the museum is to really be a resource for them to answer questions sometimes about their own history. We have stories of survivors and their descendants seen in our collection. This comes back to us frequently.
Can you elaborate on how the pandemic has made it more difficult or easier to continue this work of collecting artifacts?
The collection never stopped. And in fact, as people went home and found the time to browse through what they had accumulated over their lifetime, we received even more offers. On average, we carry out about two collections per day. We are offered many more on a daily basis.
Our oral history archives, in particular, have really grown by leaps and bounds during this time. The Oral History Collection is one of the largest and most diverse collections of Holocaust testimony in the world. And even during the pandemic, the museum has had one of its most productive years. In fact, we have collected over 400 interviews during this period from survivors and witnesses, both in North America and Europe.
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