Ohio school recovers Holocaust survivors’ recorded melodies

By on February 4, 2017


Ohio school recovers Holocaust survivors' recorded melodies (Photo by JEN9841 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0)
Ohio school recovers Holocaust survivors’ recorded melodies (Photo by JEN9841 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0)
AKRON, Ohio—Wire recordings of Holocaust survivors singing melodies at a refugee camp in France in 1946 are being heard for the first time in decades, thanks to university employees in Ohio who pieced together a device to listen to them.

University of Akron officials say the six songs were sung by survivors in Henonville, France, for psychologist David Boder, who was among the first to record Holocaust survivors telling their stories during the 1940s. He recorded on steel wire, capturing the melodies with lyrics in Yiddish and German.

“Dr. Boder was determined to give the survivors a voice,” said David Baker, a UA professor of psychology and executive director of the Center for the History of Psychology. “Dr. Boder is credited with being the first person to record testimony of Holocaust survivors.”

Boder conducted numerous interviews on wire recorders, which were considered state-of-the-art equipment at the time. He also recorded religious services, folk songs and counselling sessions in addition to his work with Holocaust survivors.

The Akron Beacon Journal reports that one woman sang melodies that had been sung in a Polish ghetto and a forced-labour camp.

Some of Boder’s spools were donated to the university in the 1960s and archived, but the content wasn’t discovered until a recent project to digitize the recordings.

“It’s the most significant discovery from our collections in our 52-year history,” Baker said. “That we could give the world the melody to a song sung by those sentenced to their death through forced labour during one of the most unspeakable horrors and trauma of the 20th century is remarkable.”

Boder’s recordings are also held in the Library of Congress and at UCLA in California. The University of Akron has shared its collection with the national Holocaust Museum in Washington.