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Holocaust Oral Histories
A project of the Cleveland chapter, Council of Jewish Women

This important Holocaust documentation project was an initiative of the National Council of Jewish Women. Our Cleveland chapter was one of several chapters that chose to participate. Its start was reported in 1984.

The most complete coverage was in November 1993 when a delegation from Cleveland delivered a set of master tapes to the U S Holocaust Memorial Museum which had been dedicated only months before, in April 1993.

The videos, recorded in color on analog magnetic tapes that could not be read by equipment available to consumers, had been preserved in three locations, but could be watched only by a few.

Then, late in 2013 the U S Holocaust Memorial Museum digitized and web-published the entire collection -- 133 sessions with the stories of 136 survivors, righteous Gentiles and liberators. They could now be watched on demand, at no charge, by anyone with a computer and broadband internet access.

This great improvement in the availability of these oral histories seems to have had little local note. We tell the story and share the web links here, in the hope of giving this documentary treasure more attention.

Arnold Berger  April 21, 2023

The interviews were recorded in color on Sony U-Matic 3/4" cassettes, one of the first to have the videotape inside a cassette, and not in open reels. Most interviews needed three cassettes. They use about 60 feet of shelf space in the WRHS archives.

Below: Cleveland Jewish News April 13, 1984

NCJW Launches Videotape Project on Holocaust

A major videotape-project documenting first-hand accounts of the Holocaust has just been launched by National Council of Jewish Women, Cleveland Section; in conjunction with the Yale University Videoarchive. Known as the Holocaust Archive Project, it is part of an emerging national effort to document the testimonies of survivors as well as liberators. Their memoirs will-be preserved at Yale University and in other national and local archives to be announced later.

NCJW is seeking Holocaust survivors who would be willing to share their stories on videotape, as well as volunteers to serve as interviewers.

Those who choose to volunteer as interviewers are expected to attend a four-session training course at the College of Jewish Studies on Wednesdays, May 2,9,16, and 23 from 7:30 p.m. until 10 pirn. They" should be able to participate iri at least three interviews this summer during June-, July and August, and to maintain contact with interviewees and have skills relating to interviewing.

Survivors' testimonies would include those who left Germany prior to 1939 and during Hitler's rule; survivors of concentration camps; those who hid as Christians with Aryan papers, those who served in the active resistance, liberators and ."righteous Gentiles."


Co-chairpersons of the Holocaust Archive Project are Terri Day and Lynn Schmelzer. Honorary chairpersons include Governor Richard F. Celeste, Cynthia Dettelbach, editor of the CJN, Senator John Glenn, Mr. and Mrs. Morton L. Mandel, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, Bishop Anthony Pilla, Rabbi Daniel A. Roberts, Mark Talisman. Mayor George V6inovich, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal and Ambassador and Mrs. Milton Wolf.

Cleveland Jewish News Nov 19, 1993 page 16

NCJW Cleveland videotapes to U.S. Holocaust Museum

CAROL K. ABRAMS Freelance Writer

Dedicated NCJW members and community volunteers made the dream reality.

A week ago Wednesday, 50 Clevelanders rose early to board a morning flight from Hopkins Airport to Washington, D.C, to complete a journey begun more than ten years ago. In late 1982-early 1983, Cleveland Jewish News editor Cynthia Dettelbach approached National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Cleveland Section, with an idea. She had recently learned of a project in New Haven, Conn., in which Holocaust survivors' testimonies were being recorded on videotape and preserved in an archive at Yale University. She hoped that NCJW, with its long and distinguished history of innovative volunteer community projects, would take on the monumental task of recording as much personal Holocaust history in the Greater Cleveland area as possible, with duplicates of the tapes to be added to the Yale collection.

Two-and-a-half years and more than 4,000 volunteer hours later, a team of extraordinarily dedicated NCJW members and community volunteers made the dream reality. The NCJW Holocaust Archive Project produced 136 videotaped testimonies of Cleveland area survivors, Righteous Gentiles, and liberators.

Three-hour interviews were conducted by trained volunteers at WEWS-TV. "Everyone at Channel 5 became as involved and committed as the rest of us were," recalled Bea Eisenberg, past president of NCJW. "They all said it changed their lives forever." The station later produced "A Time to Remember," an award-winning half-hour documentary narrated by actor and survivor Robert Clary, created from excerpts from the hundreds of hours of NCJW tapes. Master copies of the tapes are housed at the Jewish Archives at Western Reserve Historical Society Library, the Video Archive at Yale, and - the reason for the Nov. 10th trip - the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The NCJW contingent, chaired by Pauline Leber, flew to Washington to present the tapes to museum officials in the Oral History Archives. First, however, we had a four-hour tour of the museum. In the group were former NCJW president, Lynn Schmelzer; current president, Roz Rosenbaum; her husband, Harvey; daughter-inlaw, Hilary, president of the Young Council Associates group; Amy Budish, NCJW vice president of program/education; and Rabbis Benjamin Kamin and Rosette Haim of The Temple. Joining men and women ranging in age from 20 to 80-plus were Sammy Moshenberg, NCJW's national representative in Washington, and Julie Snider, representing Congressman Louis Stokes' office.

One of the workers most deeply involved in the project, Michelle Heyer, was on hand. For six years she worked on creating abstracts of one-third of the tapes, extracting information from the vast amount of material so that it could be catalogued, referenced and cross-referenced and become accessible to researchers. "Michelle went everywhere with headphones on, listening to the tapes," noted Schmelzer. She worked on this project during summers, travel, living in Europe, getting her graduate degree from Duke, and now in law school at Case Western Reserve University! She is wholly responsible for the Resource Guide."

Two fat volumes of this guide, plus a copy of the WEWS documentary, "A Time To Remember," were what Schmelzer presented to Joan Ringelheim, head of the oral history department of the museum's Research Institute. The actual copies of the 136 Cleveland tapes will follow as soon as the museum is prepared to receive them.'

Ringelheim, elated at the acquisition, said the Cleveland collection will add 10% to their current collection of 1,500 videotaped testimonies. "Part of the museum's central mission is the gathering of evidence," she said. "The basic information on the Cleveland tapes will be put on computer and be accessible throughout the world."

"Over 200,000 individuals have made contributions to the ($148 million) museum, with 60-70 gifts of over $1 million each, something unheard of," noted Wesley Fisher, assistant director of the Research Institute. "The majority of our visitors, 62%, are not Jewish, and approximately 1% of the American Jewish community comes through the museum each month." Roz Rosenbaum was understandably thrilled with the day, "a historic one for NCJW," and the immediate sellout response when the trip was announced. According to NCJW executive director, Jean Heflich, the section is exploring a second plane trip and tour of the museum in April 1994.

To access the USHMM online collection, click here

Our unofficial one page lists of interviews:
accession sequence     last name sequence


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