The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive is one of the most important collections of survivor oral histories in the world.
In August 1981, Dr. Sidney Bolkosky, professor of history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-D), conducted an interview with Salvatore and Lily Katan, Detroit-area survivors of the Holocaust. This was just the beginning of a wonderful project.
Over the years, Bolkosky interviewed nearly 300 Holocaust survivors. These interviews became the Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, a collection at the Mardigian Library at UM-D. As its website states: “This archive represents a guarantee of honest presentation — unembroidered, without dramatization, a scholarly yet austerely moving collection of information and insight,” and that “the Voice/Vision Archive is made to be used.” In this respect, most of the interviews are now online.
Dr. Sidney Bolkosky (1944-2013) was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y., the son of Jewish immigrants. He earned a B.A. from the University of Rochester, an M.A. from Wayne State University, and a Ph.D. from SUNY-Binghamton. In 1972, Bolkosky returned to Michigan for a position at UM-D, where he made a distinguished career over the next 40 years, including receiving numerous awards for teaching as well as establishing the Voice/Vision Archive. Among his many publications was a first-rate history of Detroit’s Jewish community in 1991, Harmony and Dissonance: Voices of Jewish Identity in Detroit, 1914-1967.
Bolkosky did not believe he had any relatives in the Holocaust. Despite no direct connection to the Shoah, however, Bolkosky developed a keen interest in the subject. He constructed a course on the Holocaust with two teachers from Oakland County in 1978 and began his interviews with survivors in 1981. At that time, Bolkosky was on the cusp of a surge of popular and scholarly interest in the Holocaust, and he was a pioneer in collecting oral histories of survivors. Bolkosky retired from UM-D in 2012.
Dr. Jamie Wraight, Bolkosky’s successor and current director of Voice/Vision Archive, described Bolkosky’s legacy: “It was Sid’s ability to let the survivors tell their stories at a pivotal point in their lives, as well as a pivotal point in the history of Holocaust memory, that makes the interviews in the archive so important and unique. The survivors were ready to talk, and Sid was there to listen. As I look back now at the interviews that Sid Bolkosky conducted over the span of nearly 40 years, I’m always kind of blown away by how important his effort to collect these stories was.”
Bolkosky left the Voice/Vision Archive in good hands. Dr. Wraight was first hired as a part-time curator for the collection in 2000 and, subsequently, worked with Bolkosky for many years. Upon Bolkosky’s retirement, Wraight became director of the Voice/Vision Archive. In addition, he also teaches about the Holocaust at UM-D, as well as courses on modern and ancient history, and has lectured on the subject around the nation.
Sidenote: We are grateful that Wraight, with the support of Dr. Martin Hershock, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters, partnered with the Detroit Jewish News Foundation in January 2020 to display the Foundation’s exhibit, “The Holocaust Unfolds,” at the Mardigian Library.
Dr. Bolkosky’s first interview 40 years ago led to a significant legacy at UM-D. The Voice/Vision Archive is one of the most important collections of survivor oral histories in the world.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.