Between 1979 and 1981, the original stock of what would become the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University was created by television producer Laurel Vlock and child survivor and psychoanalyst Dori Laub. Vlock and Laub began by interviewing 183 Jewish Holocaust survivors residing in and around New Haven, Connecticut. In 1983, a conference titled "The Educational and Research Use of the Yale Video Archive" took place in New Haven, with renowned Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg delivering the keynote address. As the archive continued to grow, new interviewers were trained by Vlock, Laub, and others, and the project expanded abroad. Literary scholar Lawrence Langer's book, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory, brought further attention to the archive and its work, and analyzed several interviews at length.1 Today, the archive comprises over 4,400 testimonies from around the world.
In describing the work of the archive, Geoffrey Hartman points out the self-directed nature of these interviews. He noted in his “Monna and Otto Weinmann Lecture” for the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1995:
It is the entire person who is asked to speak, not only the one recalling terror and time and trial. In this, above all, the historical or sociological value of the testimonies is clear. Yet we refuse to 'program' the interviews, declining to guess what special interests future generations might have. The welling-up of memories is crucial, rather than the imposition of a particular research interest, however important the latter may be for the overall picture.2
In addition to being one of the first video testimony projects, these interviews are also set apart by their structure. Spearheaded by a psychoanalyst, a journalist, and a literary critic, the interviews are meant to be self-guided. These interviews use a combination of factual questions, psychological questions, and interviewer interventions. Survivors are often framed in tight close-up shots without the context of their surroundings. This reflects how survivors themselves are meant to be the guiding force of the testimony, taking it in whatever direction they choose. Since these interviews were among the earliest recorded video testimonies, survivors are younger than in several later projects. Most are between 40 and 60 years old. In keeping with the project's highly personal tone, the survivors' names are kept anonymous (although some have since become known through the scholarly work on the archive).3
The testimony of Menachem S. is typical of interviews conducted by the Fortunoff project. Menachem S. was a child survivor of the Krákow Ghetto and the Płaszów labor camp. Menachem S. spends much of his interview discussing the psychological effects of persecution and survival.