betaThese pages are being tested. Give feedback to help improve them.

Advanced search

History of the collection

We all have a duty to fulfil towards our past,” implored Dr Eva Reichmann, former Director of Research at The Wiener Library, in a short front-page appeal in the journal of Association of Jewish Refugees in Great Britain in 1954. Reichmann’s impassioned appeal launched the Library’s ambitious effort in the mid-1950s to record testimonies about the Holocaust.

The 1950s testimonies project grew out of The Wiener Library’s efforts to study and collect evidence about the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust. After the war, it made a concerted effort to gather the perspectives and experiences of the victims of persecution. This effort came at a time when other ‘early’ record- and testimony-collecting projects had begun to wind down, but before the widespread push to record survivor testimony in the 1980s and 1990s.

Over a period of about seven years, and with financial support from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, Reichmann and her team gathered reports from refugees and survivors in Britain and abroad. The interviewees recounted their experiences of events from 1933 through the end of the war as well as its aftermath. Calls for interviewees were issued in the British and continental European press, and many were found through networking and word-of-mouth. Trained interviewers – many of whom were often survivors or spouses of survivors – recorded, transcribed, edited and indexed the accounts under Reichmann’s direction. In addition to survivors’ testimonies, the collection also includes contemporary documents and letters.

Reichmann and her associates began close to London and gradually spun out further and further as their network of interviewers and interviewees widened. Reichmann’s methodology was described in The Wiener Library Bulletin in autumn 1955:

Only occasionally the reports will be drawn up by the authors themselves; usually the eye witnesses are visited by one of the Library’s interviewers for one or more conversations. During these the interviewer tries to elicit as much information as possible and, on the strength of it, writes the report. This is submitted to the interviewed person to ensure that it contains no mistake or misunderstanding, and is subsequently incorporated into our archives. For the purposes of reference, it is analysed, catalogued and cross-indexed.

Unlike more contemporary projects that have collected survivor testimony, which often seek to preserve the exact wording and recollections of the witness as they are stated, Reichmann and her team analysed the reports for accuracy in dates and other criteria, annotated and corrected them, and ensured that the interviewee signed the updated eyewitness report.

At the same time, the annotations and related correspondence indicates that Reichmann and her colleagues tried to preserve as much as possible the character and meaning of the author of the report, particularly where they could not verify particular details or were unclear about certain forms of expression, especially for those who were writing in German but whose first language may have been something else.

The project successfully gathered more than 1,300 reports in seven different languages over seven years.

Eva Reichmann reading newspapers at The Wiener Library in July 1952.

Note to user

Dear user,

In response to current developments in the web technology used by the Goobi viewer, the software no longer supports your browser.

Please use one of the following browsers to display this page correctly.

Thank you.