2021 Year in Review

Updated: Jan 18

Message from Director Dr Bea Lewkowicz


Dr Bea Lewkowicz with Rachel Miller from New York's Center for Jewish History

As the year 2021 is coming to an end, it is time to look back and think about the future. We have been very busy getting the entire collection of interviews (and their transcripts) ready for our partner organisations and I would like to thank the Refugee Voices team, consisting of cameramen, interviewers, transcribers, editors, researchers, and digital content manager Susanna Kleeman for their hard work. We could not highlight and share the wonderful material from our collection without their dedication. While I knew that it was important to capture the stories of the refugees and survivors when we started interviewing in 2003, I did not anticipate that twenty years later the importance and interest in Holocaust testimonies seems to be ever increasing. I am also very pleased to have been able to facilitate the various ‘journeys’ of the Refugee Voices interviews, from being used in academic book and in Holocaust Memorial events to exhibitions, the AJR Holocaust map, and documentaries. For me, the fact that four of our interviews were featured in a Spiegel TV documentary about the Kindertransport, which reached a huge number of viewers, was a personal highlight of 2021. We are looking forward to many more collaborations in 2022!


I was fortunate to visit the impressive Centre for Jewish History in Manhattan last week, to discuss our first ever North American partnership with the Center for Jewish History in New York. While the digital copies of the interviews will go to many institutions world-wide, we are grateful to the Wiener Holocaust Library for both making our digital interviews accessible on site but also for safety storing the original tapes of our first 150 interviews.


In the last year we were also able to return to face to face interviewing, although in smaller number. With the launch of the ‘Next Generations’ interviews, we are looking forward to conducting many more interviews in 2022. As a wonderful end of the year in terms of interviewing, I was able to conduct an interview with Edmund de Waal at the Austrian Embassy in London (and also see the wonderful exhibition ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’ at the Jewish Museum in New York). He talked vey movingly about what it means to him to be the son of a refugee from Vienna and why is considers himself to be third generation (he heard the stories about his family background from his grand-mother and great-uncle), second generation (his father was born in Vienna), and first generation (as he tells the family’s story through his own voice).


Sadly, we also had to say goodbye to a number of interviewees, most recently to the journalist John Izbiki and to Holocaust educator Lili Pohlmann MBE. We are grateful to have captured their interviews and their words will continue to inspire us. John Izbiki could not have summarised the importance of Holocaust education more succinctly by telling us to ‘think of the past’ and to not ‘let it become the future’. When I asked Lili what message she had for our viewers, she simply replied: ‘It should be a better world, so that we do not have to tell stories like this again’.


I would like to thank you for your support of Refugee Voices and wish you a happy and healthy 2022. May the new year bring us closer to the better world.


With my very best wishes,

Bea

Dr Bea Lewkowicz

 

We started the year with Dr Jana Buresova's fabulous FOOD & THE ARCHIVE blog, a look at testimony relating to food from our collection:

Food, whether we acknowledge it or not, plays a large part in our lives, and signifies much more than sustenance, vital though that is, and crucial at times of starvation. Memories – good or bad – are associated with it. Our home life, respective cultures, traditions and tastes are reflected by it, and our craving for, or avoidance of particular food(s), may be dictated by prevailing circumstances in peacetime and/or wartime. Interviewees’ memories of food, and everything linked with it, are thus as diverse as the individuals themselves.
 

On social media, we looked at 'Small Acts of Kindness': little things that meant a lot to some of our interviewees.


 

For Holocaust Memorial Day, we held our first online event, for the launch of Dr Bea Lewkowicz's new film VOICES FOR A BETTER WORLD. The event was introduced by Michael Newman, Chief Executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees and addressed by Ambassador Michaela Küchler (IHRA president 2020/2021) and The Rt Hon Lord Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust issues. The panel was chaired by Dr Bea Lewkowicz, Director of the AJR Refugee Voices Archive and featured four interviewees who appear in the film, Kurt Marx BEM, Eva Clarke BEM, Ann Kirk BEM and Bob Kirk BEM. They very movingly discussed the people who were their 'lights in the darkness', their engagement in Holocaust education and explored the theme of ‘the legacy of testimony’. Closing remarks were delivered by Susie Kaufman.


Watch the event here:


 

For Purim, we featured Bob Kirk's astonishing photo of a Hannover Purim party:


 

In March we held an online event with Alissa Jaffa, whose father Dr Ignatz Maybaum was rabbi of the Berlin ‘Liberale’ synagogues, Oranienburgerstrasse & Pestalozzistrasse & was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1935. Watch the event here:

A remarkable coincidence arose during the event. One of the audience of viewers, Ruth Webber, another of our interviewees, recognised herself in one of Alissa's photos, aged three in the same Berlin Kindergarten. Read more about what happened next here.

 

For Yom HaShoah, Dr Bea Lewkowicz wrote about the power of testimonies. Read her blog here:



 

In May and June we looked extensively into the experiences of our interviewees who spent the war years in hiding. Much of this testimony is harrowing. Here is a selection:




 

Dr Jana Buresova commemorated the death of Prince Philip with this blog about progressive schools and refugees in exile in Britain, featuring the testimony of some our interviewees who attended Bunce Court, Regent’s Park & Stoatley Rough schools.


 

In July we visited the Wiener Holocaust Library to deposit the original DV camera tapes for our first 150 interviews for safekeeping, and to present the Library with a hard drive containing 250 digitised interviews, for researchers to access shortly at the Library. This represented 18 years of our project and more than 1000 hours of transcripts: a great deal of work! Read more about the visit here.


 

Archive researcher Kristen Baumgartner's blog on the complex relationship between our interviewees and their German mother tongue was fascinating. Read it here.


 

We celebrated Rosh Hashanah (New Year) with one of the true treasures in our collection: this Rosh Hashanah card made by Lady Zahava Kohn for her parents when they were imprisoned in Westerbork Camp:


 

In September we commemorated the life of Lili Stern-Pohlmann MBE, who died aged 89. We're so grateful to Lili for her vivid testimony, in particular her experiences in hiding in Lvov. Read Dr Bea Lewkowicz's tribute here.


 

In September we were also so pleased to announce our new NEXT GENERATIONS collection, featuring interviews with second and third generations. Watch Ed Skrein talk about his grandmother, and read more about the project here.


 

This year, due to Covid, we only managed to conduct a few live in-person interviews. One was with 100 year-old Vera Schaufeld. This incredible 1939 photo shows Vera at the Hook of Holland getting off her Sir Nicholas Winton Kindertransport from Prague en route to Britain to be met by relatives who gave her a doll.


 

We finished the year by interviewing artist and author Edmund de Waal at the Austrian Embassy in London, for our NEXT GENERATIONS collection. This was an illuminating and moving interview. Watch the highlights here.