About the Fortunoff Video Archive

In 1979, a grassroots organization, the Holocaust Survivors Film Project, began videotaping Holocaust survivors and witnesses in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1981, the original collection of testimonies was deposited at Yale University, and the Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies opened its doors to the public the following year (for a more detailed history of the collection see A Yale University and New Haven Community Project: From Local to Global). Since then, the Fortunoff Archive has worked to record, collect, and preserve Holocaust witness testimonies, and to make its collection available to researchers, educators, and the general public.

The Fortunoff Archive currently holds more than 4,400 testimonies, which are comprised of over 10,000 recorded hours of videotape. Testimonies were produced in cooperation with 37 affiliated projects across North America, South America, Europe, and Israel, and each project maintains a duplicate collection of locally recorded videotapes.

The Fortunoff Archive and its affiliates recorded the testimonies of willing individuals with first-hand experience of the Nazi persecutions, including those in hiding, survivors, bystanders, resistants, and liberators. Testimonies are recorded in whatever language the witness prefers, and range in length from one-half hour to over 40 hours (recorded over several sessions).

A group of interviewers in the New Haven area completed an eight-week training course in 1984, and continue to attend workshops. Training includes lectures by historians, required readings, critical viewing of testimonies, and in-depth discussion of our interviewing methodology, with the goal of teaching the interviewers to be empathic and highly informed listeners.  Fortunoff Archive representatives supervised and conducted the training at the affiliate project.

Fortunoff Archive's interviewing methodology stresses the leadership role of the witness in structuring and telling his or her own story. Questions are primarily used to ascertain time and place, or elicit additional information about topics already mentioned, with an emphasis on open-ended questions that give the initiative to the witness. The witnesses are the experts in their own life story, and the interviewers are there to listen, to learn, and to clarify.

The testimonies are cataloged in Yale’s online public access catalog and in OCLC, in an international bibliographic database. Each recording is indexed by geographic names and topics discussed during the interview, and keyword searches can be combined to locate specific witness profiles.

The Fortunoff Archive serves as a resource for other projects working to record witnesses to the Holocaust and other twentieth-century genocides.  The Fortunoff Archive consults for a variety of Holocaust-related organizations, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, the Bergen Belsen Memorial and Museum, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. The Video Archive has worked with organizations concerned with documenting genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, and Cambodia, and with Japanese-Americans interned in the United States during World War II. The Archive has advised these groups on matters including confidentiality and legal issues, pre-interview procedures, interviewing techniques and the taping environment, and cataloging methods.

Last modified: 
Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 11:46am