By Dr Bea Lewkowicz
Yom HaShoah, 8 April 2021
We started conducting video interviews for the AJR Refugee Voices Archive in 2003, 18 years ago. Since then we have interviewed almost 260 refugees and survivors, which means we hold about 1000 hours of video testimonies and more than 5500 photographs and documents in our collection, which we share through our website, Social Media channels, and partner institutions.
On this Yom Hashoah, we remember all our wonderful interviewees who have given their testimonies to our archive. We confirm our commitment to safeguard, protect, and share the personal and collective stories of the survivors and refugees.
As educators we need to ask ourselves which usage of testimonies will have the greatest impact to further Holocaust education and combat antisemitism and racism. What can we learn from the survivors and refugees who have gone and shared their testimony tirelessly for the last decade?
This question formed the background for my film ‘Voices for a Better World: The Legacy of Testimonies’. I wanted to go back to the interviews and present the messages and reflections offered by the interviewees to make us think what responsibility we have as the caretakers of the interviewees’ stories, documents, and photographs. The film features excerpts from 80 interviews who came to the UK as survivors from Nazi Europe (post-war) or as refugees (pre-War), many of them on the Kindertransport.
We can see snapshots of the 80 interviewees, we hear their voices and words, see their image, and witness, not only the narration but also the silences and the pain. While their stories are often traumatic and complex, their messages are very clear. The interviewees underline the importance of tolerance, of understanding, of democracy, and peace.
At the end of the first ever interview for Refugee Voices, conducted in 2003 with Elena Lederman who survived the war in hiding with her son in Brussels, she says:
‘Well, I would like the war never to come again. I don’t want any new generation to know what we knew, that is a wish for everybody, and to be a lesson for the new generation - not to have wars’.
Elena Lederman captured the basic sentiment expressed in different variations in most AJR Refugee Voices interviews.
I hope that by listening to the reflections and messages of the interviewees we will find inspiration on how to survive hardship and tragedy and that these messages will also inspire us to create visionary future digital resources for Holocaust education, so that we can, to quote interviewee and journalist John Izbicki ‘think of the past and not let it become the future’.