The archive began in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1979 when Laurel Vlock, a television journalist, and Dr. Dori Laub, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist met and recorded Dr. Laub's testimony. This initial effort led to the Holocaust Survivors' Film Project, Inc, a grassroots organization, created to videotape local Holocaust survivors and witnesses. The project was based on the belief that every survivor has a unique story to tell, that there was a diminishing window of opportunity to record their testimonies, and that video would be an effective vehicle for capturing Holocaust survivors' experiences. This initial effort recorded nearly 200 testimonies. These tapes were donated to Yale University in 1981, and in 1982 the Video Archive was established at the university's Sterling Memorial Library. Sterling Professor Geoffrey Hartmann, who had written extensively about Holocaust memory and testimony, became the faculty advisor and project director and a driving force in its development.
The archival collection has grown to over 4,300 items. These testimonies reflect the diversity of the witnesses and include accounts by Holocaust survivors, liberators, resisters, and bystanders. The tapes are catalogued and cross-referenced and are available to educators, researchers, and the public.
The Archive is an ongoing effort to preserve Holocaust memory. It works with affiliated video-testimony projects around the United States, Europe, Israel, and South America and has undertaken joint projects with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museums. Interviewers in affiliated projects are trained in its methodology and both the Archive and the affiliate receive a copy of the recorded testimony for their collections.
When the Video Archive was established it's interviewing philosophy was a departure from other oral history projects because it stressed the role of the witness rather than the interviewer in leading the interview. The interview is deliberately unstructured and open-ended; its content and direction determined by the witness rather than the interviewer. The latter asks questions primarily for clarification of time and place or for elaboration on a subject that the witness has already raised.
The Video Archive has an intensive training program. It is designed to prepare its interviewers both in methodology and in the background to the witnesses' experiences. The participants read and attend lectures on history, observe taped interviews, and discuss the Archive's interviewing techniques. The Archive has lent its expertise to other Holocaust organizations as well as international groups concerned preserving the memory of other genocides in the 20th century.
Education is a key to the goals of the Archive. In order to further the use of witness accounts in the classroom, it has created a library of edited video testimonies that are available to teachers and community groups. The Archive has also collaborated with educational organizations that have developed study guides using testimony. In addition, it sponsors academic conferences on Holocaust education and research.
The Fortunoff Archive for Holocaust Testimonies encourages use of its collection to the widest audience possible through its website: www.library.yale.edu. It has produced a television documentary of its own and spurred educational films.