Jerusalem, April 2011 – An invaluable archive of more than 1,500 oral testimonies from child survivors of the Holocaust, collected in numerous countries over the past 30 years, has been received by the Oral History Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

A one-day conference to mark the receipt of the archive and to hear lectures related to the subject will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13 in the Rabin Building of the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies on the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. The conference will bring together researchers and authors from the Hebrew University and elsewhere. .

The collection of testimonies, which is known as the Kestenberg Archive of Testimonies of Child Holocaust Survivors, was conveyed to the Harman Institute by Dr. Eva Fogelman and Dr. Helene Bass-Wichelhaus of the International Study of Organized Persecution of Children, located in New York City, who had sought an appropriate archival home for the recordings.

Initiators of the project were Dr. Judth S. Kestenberg (1910-1999) and her husband, Milton Kestenberg (1910-1991). Dr. Judith Kestenberg was the founder of Child Development Research in the US in 1961, working with children and parents for the prevention of mental disorder and developmental problems. In 1981, the Kestenbergs, working with many associates, began traveling all over the world within the framework of what was named the International Study of Organized Persecution of Children project, interviewing 1,531 child survivors of the Holocaust as well as children of Nazis and observers of child persecution.

The interviews were conducted in various countries, including: the United States, Germany, Israel, Australia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Czech Republic, Holland, France, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Yugoslavia and various countries in South America.
Until the early 1980s, many child survivors of the Holocaust did not see themselves as survivors. Often this was because they had been told and believed that children do not suffer the long-term effects of trauma as do adults. They believed that their fragmented memories could be set aside and they could get on with their lives. But it became evident that they could not escape the long-term effects of loss of family and home, exposure to severe and prolonged violence, being in hiding, and loss of a childhood.
As one child survivor explained, “At first I wanted only to forget. Now, many years later, I want to understand myself better, to connect with other child survivors, and find ways how our experiences can help others.”
The Oral History Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University began collecting oral testimonies for the purposes of historical research in 1959, with the assistance of pioneering scholars such as Professors Yehuda Bauer, Dov Levin and Haim Avni. These early interviews, covering a wide range of subjects and conducted according to highly professional standards, assured the institute the status of being the foremost academic collection of oral documentation in Israel.

Today, this collection of more than 9,000 interviews in 20 languages constitutes a unique treasure of Jewish memories. It includes testimonies on the Holocaust that were conducted when the reservoir of survivors (especially those who were adults during the war) was much larger and their memories less affected by the passage of time than today.

Most of the interviews in the Kestenberg archive that has now become part of the Harman Institute collection have been transcribed. At present, the material has not been digitized and is not easily available to researchers, but there are plans to do so.