A complete transcript and translation of Helen Tichauer's interview can be found here.
In the summer of 1946, sociologist David Boder began what is arguably the first audio-testimony project that sought, as its agenda, to preserve survivor histories rather than utilize their testimony for legal or evidentiary purposes.1 As such, David Boder's efforts stand out in several ways. While Boder was certainly not the first person to interview these survivors, he was the first to record them with audio equipment. Thus, unlike the written testimonies, Boder recorded the process of the interview itself. Boder's interviews were also among the first psychologically inflected projects. Boder relied upon the so-called "trauma index" developed for Displaced Persons rather than soliciting questions for evidentiary purposes. This index "scored" the interviewee's traumatic experiences that were then coded by color and number.2 Finally, Boder spoke and interviewed survivors in the language of their choice instead of mediating their words through an interpreter. As a result of this method and process, Boder preserved the interchange between interviewer and interviewee. What we receive as a result is not a finished, polished work of testimony, but rather an evolving, unfolding conversation.
David Boder was himself a refugee, born in Libau (today Liepāja in Latvia) in 1886. He studied in Vilna, Leipzig, the United States, and St. Petersburg, where he earned a degree in psychology. Boder fought in the Russian Army during World War I, and subsequently fled Russia during the 1917 revolution for Japan, Mexico, and eventually the United States, where he received a masters degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Northwestern University. During and after the war, Boder was employed at Lewis University (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). Boder arrived at what he called the "happy idea" of interviewing Jewish Displaced Persons immediately upon the end of the war in May of 1945. While he had hoped to gain entrance to Germany immediately, his trip was delayed by a year in order to obtain the necessary approvals. In the end, Boder visited DP camps, job training facilities, children's homes, and refugee sites in Paris, Geneva, Munich, Italy, and Wiesbaden. All told he interviewed approximately 130 Jewish DPs.3
Boder's first interviews took place on July 29, 1946 in the ORT Training School in Paris.4 He describes the experience of initiating these interviews in his book, I Did not Interview the Dead:
"I would meet a colony of DPs in a particular shelter house for lunch or dinner. After the meal I would ask them to sing and, with their knowledge, I recorded the songs. When I played these back, the wonder of hearing their own voices recorded was boundless. Then I would explain my project and ask for volunteers. [...] When the selected individual appeared for the interview I would say, 'We know very little in America about the things that happened to you in concentration camps. If you want to help us out by contributing information about the fate of the displaced persons, tell your own story.'"5
The interviews themselves were conducted in a psychoanalytic setting: Boder would sit behind the speaker, the interviews took place alone, and no prepared notes were permitted. When Boder translated the interviews, he did so orally, with a stenographer who then recorded his words. Boder did all of his own translations. Boder's interviews were, for all intents, the first to treat survivors as victims of trauma with their own individual stories to tell that were valuable in and of themselves. In addition to this psychological purpose, Boder also aimed to raise awareness amongst the American public regarding the plight of the Jewish Displaced Persons in Europe. Ultimately, Boder's interviews aimed, in his words, "to gather personal reports in the form of wire recordings for future psychological and anthropological study." At the same time, he recognized that the stories he gathered were not, in the end, "the grimmest stories that could be told—I did not interview the dead."6
This interview with Helen Tichauer took place on September 23, 1946, in the Feldafing Displaced Persons Camp. Originally from Bratislava, Tichauer was deported to Auschwitz in March of 1942 together with 2,000 other unmarried women. Because of her early arrival, Tichauer was witness to the early construction of the camp extension at Birkenau. She was also in a unique position to observe the inner workings of the camp.7
Tichauer's testimony serves as a prime example of Boder's technique and product. He introduces his subject in English, and the German language testimony follows. As we can hear, the wire recording technique presents several challenges, not the least of which is the quality of the recordings, especially at the beginning of the interviews. More profoundly, however, Boder's interview raises questions about the method and function of these early interviews. What is the impact—and importance—of hearing the entire exchange between interviewer and survivor for the first time? What is the importance of the interview language? Does it make a difference in the final product, or is it merely incidental? How does Boder's interview technique bring out a different result than its contemporary counterparts?