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Holocaust Survivors’ Stories Collected, Preserved for History

A Polish Jew worked as a doctor in the Warsaw Ghetto before he was sent to Treblinka and Dachau.

A Dutch Jewish girl’s family used diamonds to bribe its way through Europe and eventually settled in Miami.

A German Jewish teen-ager was sent on a children’s transport to England in 1939 and then worked with survivors in displaced persons camps after the war.

These stories are among the nearly 200 memoirs sent so far to the Holocaust Survivors’ Memoirs Project, which has received $1 million in funding from Random House.

Elie Wiesel, the project’s honorary chairman, has been pushing the idea for years.

Wiesel says the project, set up by the World Jewish Congress, will encourage survivors, many of whom are in their 60s and older, to write down their stories.

The survivors’ “stories are unique and what they have to say nobody else has to say,” Wiesel, a Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, recently told The New York Times.

“They should feel that people want to know what they have gone through.”

The project wants to preserve the memoirs of survivors, according to Menachem Rosensaft, the project’s director and editor in chief.

In addition, the project hopes to make these memoirs accessible to scholars, students and the general public to ensure that those studying the period know the experiences of the survivors, Rosensaft says.

So far, most of the memoirs received have come from North America, with a smattering from Latin America, Israel and England.

Most are written in English, with a few in Yiddish. One memoir of life in Buchenwald is written in Hebrew.

Some of the memoirs include experiences in displaced persons camps after the war – and in resettlement in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

“The authors do not end their experiences in 1945,” says Rosensaft, who was born in the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp in 1948.

Rosensaft is also the editor of “Life Reborn: Jewish Displaced Persons, 1945- 1951.” The collection of talks from last year’s conference on DPs, held at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, is slated for release later this month.

Rosensaft says the memoir project complements Steven Spielberg’s massive oral history project, which is interviewing tens of thousands of survivors.

“Here you have the written word – survivors who sat down, often for years, writing down, crossing out, putting down their experiences” and often expressing in writing what they couldn’t say, Rosensaft says.

He hopes the first batch of memoirs will come out in the next 12 to 15 months, but it’s not clear how they will be made accessible.

Since Random House funded the project, it has first rights to publish any of the manuscripts.

An academic press may publish some, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or the WJC may publish others. Some may be published online. The project’s goal remains clear, says Rosensaft. It is to put survivors’ “perspective front and center. It is ensuring that their words and their memories be part of the permanent record of the Holocaust.”

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