The social history of Jews in the Holocaust: The necessity of interviewing survivors

Steve Hochstadt
1997
This essay urges the importance of collecting the oral history of survivors in order to create a richer and more accurate social history of Jews during the Holocaust. The special circumstances of the Holocaust have resulted in a documentary history which has been told from the perspective of the Nazi perpetrators. Only oral testimony can enable us to understand the actions and reactions of Jews faced with harassment, expropiation, exile, and murder. The practice of oral history was not
more » ... ry was not originally designed for eliciting memories of traumatic events. Holocaust oral history requires the historian to reject the positivist conception of the objective and distanced interviewer, in favor of a position as compassionate listener to painful personal experiences. Interviews can produce less mediated, more spontaneous versions of memory, which require sensitive interpretations. The oral histories of Jewish refugees to Shanghai are examined to demonstrate how careful reading and listening can elucidate the social memories, and thus the social history, of Jews in the Holocaust. The process of interviewing also helps the historian bridge the experimential gap with survivors, enabling a better understanding of their experiences.
doi:10.12759/hsr.22.1997.3/4.254-274 fatcat:5p7ygv2pijhaxhryxd7m7pwhrm