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St. Louis Holocaust Museum Preserves Survivors' Stories In Interactive Online Archive

A docent leads students on a tour through the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center. 4/5/19
Holocaust Museum & Learning Center
A docent leads students on a tour through the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center.

For years, the cassette tapes gathered dust. The original master recordings were squirreled away in storage, with lesser-sounding copies made available to scholars upon request.

Now, a collection of 144 interviews with Holocaust survivors is available for easy access on the website of St. Louis’s Holocaust Museum & Learning Center.

The online archive includes photos and timelines depicting each interviewee’s story in addition to newly digitized recordings of the interviews.

It offers immediate access to the stories of people with ties to the St. Louis region who lived through the Holocaust — the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and mass murder of Jews and other groups perpetrated by the Nazi-led German government and its collaborators before and during World War II.

More than six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, about two-thirds of the population of European Jews at the time.

Interviewees range from survivors of concentration camps to Jews who escaped Europe during World War II, to locals who helped liberate death camps and concentration camps as soldiers.

The online archive is designed to allow users to hear first-person stories that vividly render the personal impact of a global tragedy.

“So that it’s not just a statistic, it’s not just a line in a history book or something that someone tells them in a lecture,” St. Louis Jewish Community Archivist Diane Everman said of impetus behind the project, “but [people] actually get to put a face to a story to learn more about it and see how these types of things affect people — and that it’s not something that’s just in a book. It was real.”

Launch of an oral history project

A group of 12 volunteers led by Vida Goldman Prince, known as “Sister” Prince, began interviewing Holocaust survivors in the St. Louis area on behalf of the Holocaust Museum in 1980. The group recorded a large body of the newly available interviews in that decade, though Prince continued for decades to interview survivors of and witnesses to events of the Holocaust who later settled in St. Louis.

“She was the driving force behind it, and kept it going for 40 years,” Holocaust Museum & Learning Center President Jean Cavender said of Prince. “She devoted years of her life to really making this happen ... She’s a pretty remarkable individual.”

The transfer of the interviews from deteriorating cassette tapes to digital formats was achieved with a donation from the Bill Kahn Memorial Fund. Price financed the web presentation of the archival materials, on a website designed by St. Louis firm Wired Impact.

Visitors to the site can search for interviewees by location, nationality and a long list of cross-referenced experiences during the Holocaust, including having had family members die in concentration camps, having been forced into the Lodz ghetto and having lived in hiding during the war. 

Jeremy can be found on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.