The Voices Project

Mission Statement

The mission of Voices of the Holocaust project is to provide a permanent digital archive of digitized, restored, transcribed, and translated interviews with Holocaust survivors conducted by Dr. David P. Boder in 1946, so that they can be experienced by a global audience of students, researchers, historians, and the general public.

Project History

Despite the groundbreaking nature of his work, Dr. David P. Boder was largely unsuccessful in his efforts to publish the displaced persons (DPs) interviews. Before his death in 1961 though, he did submit a set of seventy interview transcripts to a select number of libraries and historical foundations across the U.S. (including Illinois Institute of Technology), though few volumes remain today. IIT's Paul V. Galvin Library began the process of digitizing the text and audio of the interviews in 1998.

In 1999, copies of the wire recordings were located at the Library of Congress (the location of the originals is unknown). These were converted to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) by the Library of Congress at IIT's request. However, the quality of much of the audio material proved to be disappointing—excessive amounts of static, distortion, hum, and other surface noise make the voices difficult to understand, and in some cases, completely unintelligible. Due to budget constraints, the library was unable to afford the costly audio restoration work necessary to improve the quality of the recordings, and was only able to convert sixteen of the interviews into a streaming format suitable for presentation over the Web.

The first Voices of the Holocaust website was launched in 2000. It featured English transcripts for the seventy interviews transcribed by Boder, and streaming audio for a small portion of these. While limited by today's standards, the site offered unprecedented access to the interview material. Previously, to read these transcripts in person or to listen to the recordings first-hand would require an incredible amount of time and effort on the part of any researcher, and would be completely impossible for most members of the public.

By the mid 2000s, the project determined that the site (which had remained relatively unchanged since its launch) needed a major upgrade to effectively meet the ever-changing educational needs and research habits of today's students. This decision came at a time when the need for quality information resources regarding the Holocaust was greater than ever. In August 2005, the Illinois legislature signed House Bill 312 into law, expanding Holocaust and genocide education requirements for Illinois elementary and high school students. Conversely, in December 2005, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first head of state to publicly question the existence of the Holocaust. These events underscored the importance of the Boder interviews as a primary source for Holocaust education, and provided further impetus to renew project activities. The means to pursue this major overhaul were obtained through a combination of grants, donations, and university funding.

The first step in these renewed efforts was to convert the DAT tapes into digital audio files, and to have all of the recordings digitally remastered to improve intelligibility and remove noise and other artifacts caused by the decay of the wire medium over time. This allowed the project to undertake an exhaustive inventory of the recorded material, which led to the exciting discovery of interviews for which no record existed in the known collections of Boder's notes and papers or in the Library of Congress's catalog of the Boder wires. The second step was then to create transcriptions and English translations for almost fifty interviews that were never transcribed by Boder during his lifetime, as well as original-language transcriptions of the seventy that Boder translated into English.

Finally, a new web interface for the project was developed, with features that allow for more meaningful interaction with the text and audio content. The redesign process has been undertaken using established standards and best practices that will allow for both secure worldwide online dissemination and preservation of the material for future generations.

Future Directions

When David Boder died in 1961, the important work he began in July of 1946 remained unfinished, with many interviews not transcribed or translated, and his only book of published interviews long since out of print. As of late 2009, all of Boder's 1946 interviews have finally been transcribed and/or translated, and the texts and recordings are fully available to the public. It is our hope that the interactive and dynamic features of the redesigned site bring Boder's efforts to life in a way never before possible, increasing the visibility and impact of the interviews, promoting deeper scholarship and analysis, and ultimately providing a richer understanding of the Holocaust and those who experienced it.