Guide to a virtual archive

Samis Tamboch: The Fire Next Time {1994), collage on canvas

A data base has been created, the innovative aspect of which lies in the assembly of all the audio as well as the visual testimonies from Greek Jews who survived the Holocaust. The testimonies are being kept in organized archives abroad and also in those in Greece, while some are scattered among private collections. The base contains more than 800 pieces of evidence which were collected at different times, in different languages and places: Greece. Europe, the USA, and Israel. The collection of testimonies with the voices of the survivors is itself a “living memorial” of the Shoah and saves the witness from anonymity. The systematic recording and indexing of the testimonies in a comprehensive body of sources is a guide to a “virtual archive” which is offered to the academic community to be put to use.

The ambition of the base is to constitute a tool which will facilitate scholars in locating and accessing the material. Our aim is to have the base constantly updated with new material consisting of audio-visual testimonies. To make research easier, the data base is in two languages. The design and implementation of the base created the requisite conditions to allow scholars to come into contact with the breadth and depth on the scattered material and to focus on particular aspects of the Nazi genocide, most weight being given to the history of the victims. The new directions in research highlight the multiple facets of the experience of the Holocaust, and through the use of the testimonies the experience is placed within specific geographical and historical contexts. Besides, by assembling the body of evidence in terms of different moments in time- from the 1950s up to today- the issue is raised of the investigation of the manifold temporalities of the manner in which the historical experience of the European Jews has been recalled and assembled. This multifariousness of the testimony and in its multi-dimensional character are reflected in the search facilities of the data base as offered to users. The base orientates research towards tracing the personal routes taken by the survivors, so that this may contribute to a multi-prismatic and systematic treatment of the testimonies.

The technical structure of the archive and the guide to it also reflect methodological options: the “testimony card” avoids any extended commentary, while the “categories” into which the experiences are arranged (incarceration in a camp, escape and so on) does not attempt to “objectivize” the personal experiences but to indicate different routes of a common history. In other words, although the story of the persecution and the genocide is well-known and despite the fact that the commemoration of the Shoah is not absent from the field of “public history”, the voices of the survivors continue to challenge us to question what exactly is meant by “knowledge” and “memory” of the “event”. It is precisely for this purpose that our programme attempts to attract research approaches which will investigate the questions of Holocaust history both more broadly and deeply.

It is clear that the electronic data base which we have constructed does not contain all the oral testimonies of Jews from Greece which have been collected in Europe, America and Israel from the end of the war up to day. Something of this nature was simply not feasible in the time scale of a single year! Thus, for example our base does not contain the body of evidence which is held by Yad Vashem and there are also no testimonies from Jews who emigrated from Greece after the war and whose evidence is no doubt recorded, but not in any of the archives known to us. Likewise, not all the significant information contained in each narrative has been “codified”, which would have further widened the categories of the testimony card. At the moment, much of the information is entered as “notes”. We should add to the “technical limitations of the base the fact a woman’s maiden name is not always mentioned and that the succession of camps to which any witness was displaced are not necessarily in chronological order. Nevertheless, despite the limitations, we believe that today we are offering the groundwork for the future enrichment of the base and its implementation in research.