The Hebrew word ‘eduth’ is derived from a verb that means “to turn”, “to return”, “to say again and again” “to witness” and, “to exhort”.
To witness is then also to give testimony to a time and a series of events in one person’s story which ultimately contribute to a collective history of a people. The personal and collective ‘eduth’, or testimony has been recorded in Jewish traditions for millennia. Within Judaism itself, testimony is often referred to as witnessing ‘the truth’ or the ‘law’; fulfilling the word of the Prophets. You might say it is our own stories (both individual and collective) that make the world go round. The more we ‘turn’ and ‘return’ to our personal histories the more we shape our view of history, shape our identity and transform our communities.
What then is oral history? It has been defined as “A modern research technique for preserving knowledge of historical events as recorded by participants. It involves the recording of an interview with a knowledgeable person, someone who knows whereof she/he speaks from personal participation or observation about a subject of historical interest.” (Willa Baum, 1977) Oral history as an academic practice and social movement became popular in the 1960s and 70s as it emphasised capturing the voices and preserving the stories of the ‘ordinary people’. People whose voices often went unheard of in the preservation of ‘mainstream’ history, for example, women, gay and lesbian communities and so forth. Today oral history covers the recording of all sorts of stories, community histories, organisational histories, family stories, social movements, religious communities and many more.
The Jewish Online Museum’s collection of personal testimonies contribute to the broader collective memory of Jewish New Zealand history and are presented here as a series of oral history narratives from people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds that reflect different periods in history. These spoken testimonies or "eduth" provide us (the listener) with a framework for understanding stories across different generations of Jewish New Zealanders. These are stories of migration, the creating of new identity and with it new communities. These voices speak of their heritage and values and their growing identification of a peoples that are both Jewish and ‘Kiwi’.
What do you gain from hearing these stories? Does it answer some questions you might have had about the Holocaust, or Jewish settlement in New Zealand? Are you inspired to record the story of someone in your family or your community?
To learn more about the practice of oral history in New Zealand, and to get advice or guidelines on how to record an interview, refer to www.oralhistory.org.nz
Image header (above): Photographic portrait of Ruth Filler, © Shadows of Shoah