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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. Since then, the 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 Archive currently holds more than 4,400 testimonies, which are comprised of over 10,000 recorded hours of videotape. Testimonies are 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 Archive and its affiliates continue to record 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).
The 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.