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EHRI: Oral History as ancillary science

“Truth and Witness mirrored in the variety of the ITS collections” was the title of the talk that René Bienert and Karsten Kühnel from the International Tracing Service (ITS) contributed to the international workshop “Truth and Witness” within the scope of the EU project European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). Taking place at London’s Wiener Library from 30th April to 2nd May, the conference focused on the topic of witness reports provided by survivors of the Holocaust and by perpetrators.

Objects of the debate were the meaning of the origin and use of such witness reports for its interpretation and evaluation, questions of archival description, juristic factors, translation issues and the dealing with erroneous testimony. Shedding light on various types of testimony mainly from a historiographical point of view, the numerous contributions largely discussed source-critical methods and the tangible results of single research projects. Supported by letters and diaries, oral and written reports by Holocaust survivors can offer precious and, in official documents often inaccessible, information on the persecution and murder of the Jews.

Archivist Karsten Kühnel acquainted his listeners with two examples of documents’ groups of homogeneous original contexts from the ITS archives under an archival angle. Subsequently historian René Bienert presented the same testimony under a research angle and subjected it to a source-critical assessment drawing a distinction between serial and individual sources of witness reports.

“The workshop resulted in a series of interesting, partly pioneering, partly also difficult methodical approaches within the interdisciplinary field“, reported Kühnel. In a next step, the researchers intend to carry out a method-oriented evaluation of the various contributions to the EHRI project. “Thus, we could provide in the future archival and research portal EHRI a tested and discussed tool to handle witness reports of oral history and other testimonies“, said Kühnel.