UWO prof preserving survivors’ stories

Mon, November 3, 2008

HOLOCAUST: Alain Goldschlager has made it his mission to collect as many stories from around the world as he can

By KATE DUBINSKI

Antique bookshelves lined with Holocaust testimonials, more than 4,000 in total, take up most of the office.

Classical music plays in the background and the French Studies professor sits comfortably in an old chair, chewing on a pipe.

The reason University of Western Ontario professor Alain Goldschlager gives for amassing the published stories of Holocaust survivors from around the world seems simple: “Because it has to be done.”

His collection, housed behind a large, nondescript wooden door on the third floor of University College, is the third-largest in the world and growing.

In more than 26 languages, including Polish, Yiddish, French and Chinese, the collection that Goldschlager started 20 years ago has grown into the Holocaust Literature Research Institute.

It’s his own personal project.

“I’ve met with survivors and children of survivors,” Goldschlager said yesterday, the first day of Holocaust Education Week that runs until next Sunday.

“A lot of survivors’ stories will disappear completely, even the ones on the Internet, if we don’t keep them up.”

In 1988, Goldschlager was working in his position with the League for Human Rights of B’Nai Brith Canada on the prosecution of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel.

As part of the research team, he wanted to look at a bibliography of testimonies from the Holocaust.

There were none.

“Libraries weren’t doing any systematic research. They had books by big publishing houses, but not many that were published at the author’s expense or by small presses,” Goldschlager said.

So, the professor set to work, going to second-hand bookstores and spreading the word about his efforts. More recently, he’s been trolling the Internet for published testimonies.

He’s got two books in Chinese, one in Japanese.

His collection is third only in size to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Authority in Israel and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

“We have to record the survivors,” Goldschlager said.

“That’s why I think my collection is precious. If a book is published, people think it is safe. But that is not always true . . . I want this library to be used.”

There are books by Australian Jews who have written down their memoirs, ones in Yiddish written in 1946 in Buenos Aires and others written and published by clandestine presses in 1942 and 1943.

Goldschlager tries to read whatever comes into his collection — if he knows the language — with an open mind and what he calls innocence.

“You have to try to look at everything as innocently as possible and not be blase about it.”

After years of reading through the stories, he still sometimes finds tales he calls “newly disturbing.”

“On those days when I come home, my wife knows I’ve had a bad day. She can tell.”