Since 1982, the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale has been compiling the stories of those who experienced the Holocaust firsthand. This weekend, one of those witnesses — author Elie Wiesel — will be coming to Yale to share his account.
To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the archive’s founding, Yale has invited a number of Holocaust scholars, including Wiesel, to campus for an international conference entitled “The Contribution of Oral Testimony to Holocaust and Genocide Studies.”
English professor and conference coordinator Geoffrey Hartman said he is excited about this weekend’s discussions and lectures because of their international scope.
“There is a kind of intellectual momentum when you have a group of scholars come together to discuss all of the different dimensions of an issue,” Hartman said. “The lesson of the Holocaust is that it is essential to put what happened on record, even if that record so far has not prevented more genocide. But I have a hope that the knowledge of what happened and the horror of what happened will be a deterrent against future genocide.”
The conference begins on Sunday with a welcome from Hadassah Lieberman, wife of Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Hadassah Lieberman, whose father spent time in a Nazi labor camp and whose mother survived the Auschwitz concentration camp, will speak at 9:30 a.m in Linsley-Chittenden, Room 102.
After the speech, a series of panels will be held, where the scholars will discuss topics ranging from teaching about the Holocaust to understanding its causes.
The keynote speaker of the event will be Wiesel, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his work on The President’s Commission on the Holocaust and the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement in 1985. Wiesel is the author of more than 40 books, including several accounts of the Holocaust. He will deliver his talk, “The Imperative of Testimony: Speaking of Unspeakable Evil,” on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in Battell Chapel.
Monday will feature more panels, as well as a screening of “Witness: Voices from the Holocaust.” The conference will come to a close on Tuesday when the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library hosts a symposium on Holocaust literature. Participating in the panel will be authors Irving Feldman, E.L. Doctorow, Thana Rosenbaum, and Aharon Appelfeld.
Martin Butora, the Slovakian ambassador to the United States, will also be on hand this weekend to provide his perspective on the Holocaust.
The archive began in 1979 as a grassroots organization called the Holocaust Survivor’s Film Project. Though taking testimony from Holocaust survivors began immediately after World War Two, at first there was little coordination between the different projects.
“We were pioneers in the sense that we were the first to systematically videotape survivor and bystander accounts,” Hartman said. “The next step was how we could make it national and international and I thought that a connection with Yale would be the best way, especially because it was so education-oriented.”
In 1981, the original tapes were formally transferred to University and with a 1982 grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the video archive was established as part of Sterling Memorial Library. Since then, the archive has compiled over 10,000 hours of videotape containing 4,200 videotaped interviews of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. Additionally, the organization has developed 37 affiliate programs in North America, South America, Europe, and Israel and has opened video depositories in Berlin, Paris, Israel and England.