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Active Learning and Research
Active Learning and Research
As a professor of both sociology and Jewish studies, Shelly Tenenbaum conducts research on such wide ranging topics as Jewish self-help societies and attitudes toward a controversial student assessment exam. She also mentors students completing senior honors theses and Holocaust and genocide studies internships.

Holocaust testimonies studied by interns

Interview with Kate Weiss and Lisa Donofrio
Kate Weiss and Lisa Donofrio are both juniors majoring in history. They talked about their summer internships made available through Clark's Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Kate and Lisa, how did you find out about the Holocaust Studies internships?

Kate: I got a flyer in my campus mailbox announcing summer internships in Holocaust Studies. I'm a European history major and I have a special interest in the Holocaust. When I saw the announcement, I knew I really wanted the internship! I got in touch with sociology Professor Tenenbaum who was the contact person (she's Director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Concentration). She helped me with the application, and I got it!

Lisa: I had Professor Tenenbaum for my genocide class. It was the first class I had taken in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies concentration and it got me interested-now it's my concentration. I received the flyer for the internship and applied.

Lisa, why don't you start by telling what you did this past summer.

Lisa: I did my internship at the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Sterling Library at Yale University. There they have a cataloged archive of video recordings of Holocaust survivors. I researched place names and transcribed testimonies from the video recordings. My work will be available for later researchers to use.

How did you go about checking place names?

Lisa:I had an atlas and some other reference books. A lot of times it was really difficult to understand what the person on the video was actually saying because of their accents or ways of speaking. It could take a really long time to pin down one place name.

I assume these place names might be in some language other than English, perhaps Polish or Yiddish or German, and you'd have to try to identify where the place actually is. That sounds quite complicated.

Lisa: Yes, it could be very difficult.

Who interviewed and videotaped these Holocaust survivors?

Lisa:The project was begun in the 1980s by a survivor. She contacted people in the New Haven area and eventually Yale adopted the program. And now they have some affiliate programs elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.

And Kate, what did your internship involve?

Kate: My internship was at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park in Manhattan. The museum is in the process of publishing a book due out in November 2002 called 36 Stories by a writer named Allan Appel. It's about some of the artifacts in the museum and the people and stories behind them, including how the artifacts got to the museum. Some of the stories take place before the Holocaust, but most are set during it. A lot of people who come to the museum want more information about the artifacts and they ask if there's anything written. So the museum decided to sponsor this book.

My job was to make sure that the details in the stories were accurate using reference works in the museum's library. I worked with another intern and we had to go through all of the stories. While they were only about 5 pages each, there were 40 stories. Thirty-six will be chosen from these for final publication. We'd check place names, and spellings and facts in general.

I felt like I knew the people in these stories intimately after reading them. One of the artifacts in the museum was a trumpet owned by a musician who played in the orchestra at Auchwitz. He was transferred to several camps but always kept his trumpet. Playing it helped get him through the Holocaust. There are dresses made in the camps, a flashlight used to send warning signs-unbelievable stories. I met the author toward the end of my internship. He'd leave notes in the margins of the manuscript saying things like: 'check this out' or 'I'm not really sure about this.' It was so incredible to finally meet him.

I also gave a few tours of the museum. I think that was one of my favorite parts. I don't like speaking in public, but it was really amazing. Most of the groups I had were young kids, 5th grade or so, and a lot of them didn't really have much prior knowledge of the Holocaust. It was really intense having the responsibility of being the first person to introduce them to the Holocaust. I really enjoyed giving tours-the museum is wonderful.

I hope you get a copy of the book when it's done!

Kate: My name's going to be in it!

Has this experience encouraged you to pursue this line of research?

Lisa: Actually, I'm not sure. I'm really torn. On an emotional level, I was almost glad when the internship ended. At the same time it was wonderful work that I found really rewarding and got a lot out of. But it was very difficult emotionally--I was having nightmares, getting upset. I'd really like to continue doing research in this area on a long-term basis, but I'm not sure how intimately I can work with testimonies.

Kate, what about you?

Kate: My experience was pretty similar. I cried a lot doing this research. Having the personal connection through reading these stories was unreal. One of my supervisors used to say: "I don't do Holocaust after 5:30." It's a difficult field to work in. I want to continue my involvement, but maybe in a way not quite so close to the personal testimonies because it's too hard.

Did you find this research experience added a dimension to your learning beyond what you would get by just going to class and doing required reading?

Kate: Absolutely. It was more personal than being in a classroom. It also helped me to see what job opportunities would be available to me as a history major. There are so many different things to do in a museum.

What about you Lisa?

Lisa: Yes, and I talked to Professor Tenenbaum about this. It was a big deal for me to be able to do this on an intimate level. When you're studying about genocide, it's easy to feel removed from what you're studying. You hear about the numbers of people killed and it's something so distant from your own life. An experience like this internship forces you to become very intimate with these testimonies. I actually met a couple of the survivors. It forces you to see things first hand, to get a very human idea of what happened. So I think it was really important.

Interviewer's Note: Senior government major Thom Dobrowolski was not able to be present for the interview, but he also interned this past summer at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City. Part of his internship included time in the museum's department of Collections & Exhibitions. There he worked on a special exhibition on Jewish GIs that served in WWII, scheduled for display in 2003. He did archival research at neighboring museums willing to loan out objects for the 2003 exhibition. He also listened to interviews done at the museum with Jewish GIs, highlighting the most important aspects. Lisa and Kate's summer internship stipends were provided from the Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Fund for Scholars of Holocaust Studies. Thomas Dobrowolski's stipend was provided by the Debra and Jeffrey A. Geller Student Research Fund.

 

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Lisa Donofrio and Kate Weiss

Lisa Donofrio and Kate Weiss

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