Alain Goldschläger, a professor in the department of French at the University of Western Ontario, is the man responsible for one of the world’s largest collections of Holocaust testimonials – a fact that he thinks is both remarkable and unfortunate.
Dr. Goldschläger established the Holocaust Literary Research Institute in 1996, after collecting 600 survivor testimonials from separate sources all over the world. Today, the institute’s collection includes more than 4,000 volumes with texts in 26 different languages.
“I am quite proud of the institute but it’s sad that nobody else had started it earlier,” he says. “I was very happy to do the work but sad that it had to be done.”
Dr. Goldschläger’s motivation to gather Holocaust testimonials began in the 1980s when he was involved in the trial of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel. He quickly realized how important the testimonials were and how great the risk was of them becoming lost.
“To understand the Holocaust, to really feel it, you have to go through the individual testimonials,” he explains. “It is interesting because each one shows a different perspective of the same story.”
The collection includes survivor testimonials from some unlikely locations like Shanghai, Siberia and Japan. Dr. Goldschläger says many relatives of Holocaust survivors use the institute’s bibliography to learn more about the conditions that their families had to endure. The database allows users to search for texts based on a number of different parameters including family name, country, year, camp or ghetto, and language.
While University of Western Ontario continues to search for new sources to add to the collection, he is also working on a book that looks at the typology of testimonials and the unique perspectives that emerge from such a large and diverse body of texts.