As we are in the middle of celebrating the Jewish festival of Chanukah and looking forward to 2023, I would like to take this opportunity to share some reflections with you.
The notion of miracles is crucial to the festival of Chanukah. Miracles are also often very important in the stories of our interviewees who attribute their survival to miracles which happened to them to help them survive. My mother Dr Gertrud Friedmann, a survivor from Slovakia, was interviewed for Refugee Voices and uses the word ‘miracle’ 13 times in her narrative, as she believed that without miracles she would not have managed to evade Nazi capture. Some of our interviewees recall celebrating Chanukah before or during the war. Norbert Barrett, born 1921 in Hockenhein, Germany, remembers using walnut shells with cotton wool wicks.
‘We lit candles for Chanukah…At one time I didn’t have a menorah. Before I made my own, we used shells of walnuts. We made wicks out of cotton wool, and put oil into the shells, and lit them. My mother taught me that because there were so many children there [she had 11 siblings].'
In 2023 the AJR Refugee Testimony Archive is celebrating its 20th anniversary, which we will mark with a major conference on the future of Holocaust testimonies in April 2023. Please register here. I am grateful for the miracle of modern technology which allowed us to capture the stories of almost 300 survivors and refugees which means that today we are able to share these voices. The experiences and reflections of the generation of survivors will thus hopefully remain a guiding light to future generations who will find new technologies to engage with the voices we have collected in the last twenty years.
A few days ago I received a photo of the new memorial bench erected in Harwich in memory of the Kinder who found refuge in the UK. Visitors can sit and listen to the voices of AJR Refugee Voices interviews with Otto Deutsch, Daisy Hoffner, Rolf Penzias, and Leslie Baruch Brent recalling their journey to Harwich and to Dovercourt. It is so poignant to listen these voices in this particular location and I am very pleased that we were able to produce this wonderful audio content for this new memorial bench. Watch the video version of the audio content in the memorial bench here:
2023 will mark the 85th anniversary of the Kindertransport and we will be looking for more innovative ways to share Kinder interviews.
When I conducted the first interview on the 8th of January 2003 for AJR Refugee Voices with Elena Lederman, who survived the war with her young son in hiding in Belgium, I did not envisage that 20 years later we would be still interviewing first generation survivors. Thank you to all our past interviewees who have shared their story with us and to future interviewees who continue to reach out to us. We are committed to letting your lights shine in years to come.
Chag Sameach and a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2023!
21 December 2022, Dr Bea Lewkowicz