Resources in the Archives — Jewish Voices: Personal Accounts of the Holocaust

“I remember distinctly how it all began. The day when the gates of the Ghetto were closed and a watch was set at its entrances. It was 1939…and nobody realized that it [was] going to be an overture to what has been the most tragic opera ever played in the history of humanity.” – Irena Urdang de Tour

In her account of life in the Warsaw ghetto, Irena de Tour provides insight into the experience of Jews and other persecuted minorities during the Holocaust. The ghetto and the horrors suffered by its inhabitants would be repeated in other Jewish communities across Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe. World War II allowed Hitler and Nazi officials to undertake the “Final Solution” to what they considered the “Jewish question.” Relying primarily on the use of extermination camps, Hitler’s “Final Solution” resulted in the murder of six million Jews (nearly two-thirds of European Jewry) by the end of the war in 1945. The destruction of entire Jewish communities meant that once liberation came, Holocaust survivors often had no homes to which they could return. As a result, displaced persons camps run by the Allied powers and the United Nations Refugee and Rehabilitation Administration took in more than 250,000 survivors. Many Jewish displaced persons left Europe for Israel, while others (including Irena and her family) immigrated to the United States.

Archives & Special Collections holds materials across multiple collections that tell the story of the Holocaust from the perspective of survivors. This includes records from the 1945-1946 Nuremberg Trials, which make up part of Senator Thomas J. Dodd’s papers. At the Nuremberg Trials, prosecutors collected evidence of the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews and other groups perceived to be biologically or racially inferior. Additionally, the archives holds collections containing personal stories of Holocaust survivors, some of whom settled in Connecticut after the war. Recorded at different times, these individual narratives give a human face to the events of the war, and offer details concerning life for Eastern European Jews before, during, and after the Holocaust. Also available are publications from a variety of Jewish and human rights organizations, which include accounts of survivors. These collections help to keep the experiences and voices of those who lived through the Holocaust present in the minds of people today and in the future.

Irena Urdang de Tour Collection of Holocaust Materials: The materials in this collection include de Tour’s account of her life and escape from the Warsaw ghetto, as well as stories from other Holocaust survivors. The collection is also comprised of a variety of newsletters, publications, letters, and other documents from Holocaust survivor and support organizations in the United States. Additionally, the collection contains periodicals from American Jewish organizations. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/846.

University of Connecticut, Center for Oral History Interviews Collection: Under the subgroup, “Holocaust Survivors in the Connecticut Region, 1980-1981,” this collection contains twenty-six oral histories from Holocaust survivors living in Connecticut. Conducted by UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, these oral histories include information about survivors’ lives before, during, and after the Holocaust. In some cases, the survivors discuss how they were able to maintain their faith while living through the horrors of the camps, including one memorable story from Isidore Greengrass about how he and his fellow prisoners celebrated Passover at Auschwitz. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/archival_objects/146101.

University of Connecticut Film Collection: This collection includes videos and films taken during conferences, presentations, and activities at the university. Two videos in particular contain stories from Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. These were recorded in October of 1995 at the “Fifty Years after Nuremberg: Human Rights and the Rule of Law” event, which was held to dedicate the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. The first video, “Fifty Years after Nuremberg: Nobel Laureate Address by Elie Wiesel” (1995), is available at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860073877. The second, “Fifty Years after Nuremberg: Nuremberg and the Legacy of the Survivors” (1995) is available at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860073866.

Thomas J. Dodd Papers: this collection consists of materials pertaining to Dodd’s career as an attorney and Connecticut senator. Significantly, the collection contains records of Dodd’s work as a member of the team of U.S. prosecutors at the Nuremberg war crimes trial before the International Military Tribunal from 1945-1946. Included is a section on human rights, specifically from the case for crimes against humanity. This consists of trial briefs and translated documents used as evidence, including materials dating back to 1936 detailing anti-Semitic measures taken by the German government. Also part of this collection are transcripts of presentations Dodd gave before the court about the concentration camps. Some of his evidence came from affidavits taken right after US troops liberated certain camps (such as Flossenburg and Mauthausen), as well as translated letters from survivors recounting their experiences. Dodd’s papers also include excerpts from the “Israelitisches Wochenblatt,” a Jewish newspaper that recorded atrocities against the Jews during the war. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/771 and digitized documents and photographs are at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3AIMTNuremberg

Norman H Finkelstein Papers: An award-winning author of nonfiction for children and adults, Norman Finkelstein writes on the Holocaust, the Jewish-American experience, and other topics within Jewish history. This collection contains Finkelstein’s manuscripts, galleys, proofs, professional correspondence, as well as published and unpublished works. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/374.

Laurie S. Wiseberg and Harry Scoble Human Rights Internet Collection: Founded with the purpose to educate people on human rights issues, the Human Rights Internet Collection holds thousands of publications from around the world on human rights related topics. The materials in this collection date from 1977 to the present, and contain materials not available in other North American libraries. Most of the publications consist of non-professional reports and studies, newsletters, and other documents collected from non-government organizations. Also included in the collection are books, journals, magazines, and newspapers acquired from human rights groups such as the Human Rights Watch, the International Council on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Anti-Slavery International. In particular, the collection holds publications concerning the Holocaust and information about Jewish survivors. The finding aid is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/110.

We invite you to view these collections in the reading room in Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center if you need resources on Jewish accounts of the Holocaust. Our staff is happy to assist you in accessing these and other collections in the archives. Additional information on the Holocaust can be found at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at https://www.ushmm.org/, and Yad Vashem: the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at https://www.yadvashem.org/.

This post was written by Alexandra Borkowski, a UConn PhD student and student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.

National History Day, “Turning Points,” and connecticuthistory.org

In the years that I have been a curator here in Archives & Special Collections I have been fortunate to work with a wide array of researchers, from academic scholars, graduate and undergraduate students, and genealogists to railroad fans, lawyers and preservationists, but I admit to you all right here and right now that I get the most satisfaction when I work with middle school and high school students, those who are at the early point of discovering the wonder and power of primary sources.   And one of the ways we get to work with young students is to help them find the resources they need for National History Day projects.

Never heard of National History Day?  Here is the description of the contest from the website at http://www.nhd.org/:

“Each year, more than half a million students, encouraged by thousands of teachers nationwide participate in the NHD contest. Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. These products are entered into competitions in the spring at local, state and national levels where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates in the Kenneth E. Behring National Contest each June held at the University of Maryland at College Park.”

The theme for the 2013 contest is “Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events,” and connecticuthistory.org, a project of Connecticut Humanities, is helping provide primary sources to NHD students by creating a new series of essays called “Turning Points.”

Thomas J. Dodd at the Nuremberg Trials, 1945-1946, from the Thomas J. Dodd Papers

We here in Archives & Special Collections are collaborating with connecticuthistory.org by choosing materials from our collections and providing these sources and essays for students to use for their NHD projects.  Two of the essays are currently online (with more to come), which include:

Connecticut Lawyer Prosecutes Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg, which describes the work of Thomas J. Dodd, who served on the Executive Trial Council at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, and the tragedy of Kristallnacht, a turning point that unleashed the persecution of European Jews by the Nazi regime.

Reporting News of Pearl Harbor, which tells of how Andre Schenker, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut and a commentator for Hartford radio station WTIC in the 1940s, reported this shattering world event — a turning point in history if there ever was one — to his Connecticut listeners.

There are more “Turning Points” to come, so stay tuned.  Also, if you haven’t tooled around connecticuthistory.org then spend a few minutes with this extraordinary resource, reading the essays and looking at the unique photographs and documents.  There is a lot to learn there about the history of Connecticut!

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections