Preserving Oral Histories of Iowa’s Jewish Past

How many times have you wished that you could hear a real person tell you what happened during an important event in history or tell you what their daily lives were like rather than just reading descriptions in a textbook? Now you can! Our collection of oral histories is more accessible than ever before.

In December 2018, the Iowa Jewish Historical Society (IJHS) completed Phase I of our special project to preserve the personal stories of Iowa’s statewide Jewish community—the shopkeepers, social workers, tailors, doctors, and housewives as well as the Jewish leaders who made important contributions to their own communities, to our state, and nation. These stories reveal details about immigrating to the United States, growing up Jewish in Iowa, keeping kosher, facing anti-Semitism, and more.

Now you can hear Louise Noun describe her journey from being a “good Jewish housewife” to becoming a women’s and civil rights leader.

You can see and hear Holocaust survivors like Jacob Waizman, Ingrid Mazie, Charles Anolik, Fred Badower, and others tell of the torture and the hardships they endured.

Or you can enjoy episodes of the 1990s television series Light One Candle that showcased people and organizations in the Jewish community.

Preserving the Collection

There are more than 500 audio and videotapes that make up the oral history collection, ranging from 1969 to 2018. Hundreds of stories were at risk of being lost if the tapes weren’t digitized and preserved as soon as possible.

For the past three years, the IJHS has been doing exactly that—digitizing and documenting the content of the tapes to provide access to this historical treasure trove.  This means that a student, adult, or a serious researcher from anywhere in the world now has access to the history found in these recordings and the new or long-forgotten details about Jewish life contained on them.

Susan Jellinger, the IJHS’ Oral History Assistant, has listened to and summarized more than 180 interviews, recordings of special events in the Jewish community, episodes from Light One Candle, and more. We also rehoused nearly 200 tapes in acid-free boxes for permanent preservation and storage.

Jewish Oral Histories Collection
Oral Histories Preservation

Listening to Oral Histories

Oral Histories Study Center

The IJHS has established a new Study Corner in the museum for viewing these tapes. Some are difficult to listen to—such as Jacob Waizman’s recounting of the time he was told to dig his own grave and then hearing the click of the gun as a German soldier prepares to shoot him or when Fred Badower describes being used as a punching bag by German soldiers.

Other interviews, especially those in the Light One Candle TV series, highlight different aspects of Jewish life as well as special events in the community—such as Governor Branstad talking about Holocaust education and the groundbreaking at The Caspe Terrace.

Get Started

To find out which recordings are available, visit our Jewish Oral Histories page to review the list, which is broken into several categories. The largest category—Oral Histories and Events—features interviews with individuals, Holocaust survivors, Liberators, business leaders, and recordings of events in the Jewish community.

If you want to watch and listen to an interview, please call 515-987-0899 ext. 216 to make arrangements.

What’s Next

There are still 187 tapes that were digitized but will be reviewed, summarized and catalogued in Phase II of our oral histories project. We also look forward to deepening our relationship with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which will establish an IJHS collection by preserving oral histories related to the period prior to, during, and after the Holocaust.

As we head into this next phase, the Iowa Jewish Historical Society is deeply grateful to all the donors, volunteers, and partners who supported this project for saving these treasures from the past.

One Response to “Preserving Oral Histories of Iowa’s Jewish Past”

  1. martin altman

    my uncle joseph altman was born in Des Moines in 1883. would like to talk with some one with the Jewish genealogy organization.
    La Shana Tova
    Martin Altman

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