2020 Year in Review
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
As this difficult year ends, we send our best wishes to you and your families. We have all got through 2020 in different ways. For those of us who work on the archive, the testimonies of our interviewees have given us insights, strength, solace and perspective in ways we could never have imagined. We're directly and profoundly grateful to those who've shared the stories of their much greater upheavals. The relatively minimal disruptions we've faced have brought us closer to their words.
Message from our Director, Dr Bea Lewkowicz
As 2020 is coming to an end, I feel it is important to acknowledge what a difficult year this has been. We had to adapt ourselves to new lives and working practices, we had to get used to a different world. In our new world we suddenly really appreciate all the things we thought of as normal before, like visiting your relatives, spending time with our friends, giving somebody a hug, travelling to other places or simply going for a swim. Having just lit the last Chanukah candle, I feel grateful to the many ‘lights’ which have accompanied us in this difficult year.
Although we conducted less interviews in the last year, the AJR Refugee Voices Archive managed to reach out to old and new audiences and create wonderful content through our digital means. This was possible through the dedicated work of the Refugee Voices team. A personal highlight for me in the last year was to talk to so many of our interviewees on the phone and see their faces on Zoom (or even interview them on Zoom) and to have been able to listen to the voices of our interviewees who are not with us anymore.
I feel this year has changed the importance and impact of Video testimonies. As all the AJR commemorations had to move online and I had the privilege of producing and editing extracts from our archive for the Yom Hashoah and Kristallnacht anniversaries, I felt that the testimonies screened straight to our homes and our screens became more intimate and powerful. Zoom has had an equalising effect on listening to testimonies. While before there was a clear delineation between ‘real’ speakers and recorded testimony, on Zoom we all appear in smaller or larger icons on Zoom, with better or worse sound quality. In this new Zoom world, we all appreciate the professionally recorded images, voices and sounds of our interviews.
So while I am looking forward to the new year and hope that the vaccine will bring us back to our ‘old normal’ I am grateful that we have learnt through our digital means to stay in touch with each other, found news ways of continuing our work, and have found a new more intimate way of listening to the many interviews in the Refugee Voices Archive.
I wish you a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2021!
Interviews & Social Distance
Oral history interviews are a challenge in times of social distance. As restrictions have flowed and ebbed this year, we've innovated new ways to record testimony. We've felt it's very important to continue our work despite COVID. We want to record as many interviewees as we can.
This year we've done interviews over Zoom, in outdoor spaces and socially distanced inside homes, and we've been pleased with the results. You can read more about these here.
We were particularly honoured to be able to record a garden interview with 98-year-old bestselling author, Dutch Resistance fighter and Ravensbrück survivor Selma van der Perre.
This year we made several short films and one long one: VOICES FOR A BETTER WORLD, a feature film made with the support of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) which explores the reflections of our interviewees at the end of their testimonies. When all is said and done, how do they make sense of their disrupted lives? What do they worry about now? What are their hopes? What advice do they have for us, and for future generations? The film was narrated by actor Ed Skrein, whose grandmother came to the UK from Vienna on a Kindertransport. You can watch it here, and read more about the 68 interviewees involved here:
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp we made a short film using the testimony of five of our interviewees:
We also made short films about Rabbi Harry Jacobi:
And two independent personal encounters our interviewees had with Hitler in June 1934:
We also released many short clips from interviews on our YouTube channel, including recollections of British Internment on the Isle of Man. You can watch them here.
Concentration Camp Survivors
This year we launched our Concentration Camp Survivors microsite. It looks at some of the most harrowing testimony in our archive. You can see it here.
This year we were pleased to support the AJR's Kindertransport podcast which used testimonies from the archive to tell the full story of the Kindertransport, from its roots to its legacy. You can listen to all ten episodes here.
Schultüte Online Exhibition
In September, to celebrate the return of school, we launched Schultüte: Welcome Back to School, a small exhibition featuring the first day of school photos of some of our interviewees with their Schultüte, traditional German and Austrian beautifully decorated cardboard cones filled with toys, chocolates, sweets, school supplies and other surprises. See the full exhibition here.
An unexpected boon of COVID has been the growth of online events. Our archive director Dr Bea Lewkowicz has hosted a series of events involving our interviewees. Here are two highlights:
A conversation with Selma van der Perre:
A conversation with interviewee and child survivor Jackie Young and Dr Rebecca Clifford, whose great book SURVIVIORS tells the story of Jackie and other children incarcerated in concentration camps:
This year we launched a new series of Refugee Voices interviews in the AJR Journal. These featured edited highlights of individual testimonies and showed some of the 3661 photos and documents we have on the site. You can find them here.
International Requests & Approaches
As the archive becomes more accessible and better known, we find ourselves fielding more and more requests from institutions, projects and individuals at home and abroad. These are often wonderful connections we are so pleased to facilitate: people finding the stories of their family members online, for example, or wanting photos to illustrate Stolperstein projects in German and Austrian towns. As institutions remains closed, we had many requests from academics, students and others wanting access to full transcripts, which we've been happy to facilitate in most cases. This direct public communication about our collection is relatively new for us and it's wonderful to have a sense of what our project means to others.
Behind the scenes
Despite COVID, this has been a very busy year for the archive doing interviews, working on transcripts and photos, improving the site and preparing to give full access to 250 full interviewees to our partner institutions. We'd like to salute those who work behind the scenes on the project for their sterling work in difficult circumstances, especially our cameramen and editors Frank Battersby and Simon Waxman, interviewer and advisor Dr Jana Buresova, editors and researchers Jayne Reich and Kristin Baumgartner, and digital lead Susanna Kleeman. You can read more about the team behind the project here.