Preserving Yiddish memory from before World War II

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded two Indiana University faculty members $267,000 to preserve and annotate oral histories they collected from Yiddish-speaking residents of Eastern Europe and make the material available to scholars, educators and the public.

Professors Jeffrey Veidlinger and Dov-Ber Kerler were awarded the grant through the NEH Preservation and Access program. Their project, which also received a 2005 NEH grant, is called Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memories, or AHEYM -- aheym is the Yiddish word for homeward.

On 10 expeditions, the two recorded more than 750 hours of interviews with 350 elderly people who grew up speaking Yiddish in the years before World War II. They have worked mostly in Ukraine but also in Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova, visiting more than 100 cities, towns and villages and conducting detailed interviews that were professionally recorded on digital video.

"Many of these people we interviewed hadn't spoken Yiddish for 20 or 30 years. But the minute you turned it on, they were completely fluent," said Kerler, the Dr. Alice Field Cohn Chair in Yiddish Studies, professor of Jewish studies and Germanic studies at IU Bloomington. Veidlinger is the Alvin H. Rosenfeld Chair in Jewish Studies and associate professor of Jewish studies and history at IU Bloomington.

With the recent NEH grant, the scholars will:
  • Preserve the collected interviews and recordings, producing digital copies for secure electronic storage
  • Catalogue and index the materials for preservation at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music and provide annotation, partial transcription, and translation in collaboration with the Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis (EVIA) Digital Archives at IU
  • Create a public Web site that will feature recorded interviews, songs and stories and video tours of the Jewish neighborhoods of Eastern European towns, guided by longtime residents
Separate from the grant, Veidlinger will rely on the material to produce a book, tentatively titled In the Shadow of the Shtetl, Jewish Memory in Eastern Europe.

Click here to read the entire press release.

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