NCRA members reflect on transcribing oral histories from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

An elderly man is in the middle of speaking. He sits in front of a German newspaper projected behind him.

U.S. Dept. of Defense photo by Marvin Lynchard

Nearly 20 years ago, Michelle Keegan, RMR, CRR, of Quincy, Mass., and her husband visited the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. It was an unforgettable experience.

“There was very little talking amongst all of us tourists as we walked around the camp that day,” Keegan said. “Everybody seemed to keep looking at one another hoping that somebody would speak up and make sense of it all. Nobody did. On the bus ride back to the city, there was no light chatter. People were too overwhelmed.”

Years later, Keegan transcribed the account of one of the American soldiers whose battalion liberated Dachau.

“There were about 17,000 people still [in the camp] when they arrived,” Keegan said. “The horrific things that he relayed about some of the surroundings were what we had seen on our tour. He recounted that the battalion that had moved into the camp before his had been very overcome with emotion. He relayed about the soldiers, ‘They were so upset about what they saw that they actually lined up about 40 or 50 of these Nazi guards and just mowed them down with machine guns.’”

Transcribing this interview was part of the National Court Reporters Foundation’s (NCRF) agreement with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to have NCRA members preserve oral records from the museum’s collections. Since 2014, NCRA members have transcribed parts of more than 100 interviews from the museum’s collection of more than 200,000 records.

Hearing these eyewitnesses’ first-hand accounts puts a different perspective on what is taught in school and from history books.

“The most meaningful part of transcribing these interviews was actually becoming immersed into their life story as they’re describing the events that had happened to them,” said Megan Orris, RPR, an official from Beaver Springs, Pa. “The part of the interview I had to transcribe dealt with what this man endured right before he was liberated and then following his immigration to America and the life he had here. It was very interesting to listen to a real-life story and not something from a history textbook. It gave me a whole new perspective on life and being appreciative that I never had to go through what this man and others had during the Holocaust.”

Transcribing survivors’ accounts is a way to honor the victims, says Karen Shelton, RDR, CRR, a freelance reporter from Fort Worth, Texas.

“I have read the stories of Holocaust survivors for years and have visited Holocaust memorials in several places and have always found them deeply moving.  When the opportunity arose to transcribe the oral histories of survivors, I knew it was something I wanted to participate in.  As much as I have learned from educating myself about the history of that time and the plight of so many victims, I felt that transcribing some of their stories was something tangible I could do to honor their memories and to provide a written record for future generations to read,” Shelton said.

Some reporters who have never transcribed an interview of a Holocaust survivor may be hesitant to do so for emotional reasons.

“I was very anxious when I hit the play button on my first Holocaust interview. Would I be able to contain my emotion and get through whatever story I was going to hear?” Keegan said. “Just like in a deposition, I automatically switched into court reporter mode and listened for the words rather than the content the best that I could.”

Keegan and many other reporters are happy to have participated.

“I cannot fully express the gratitude that I have to be able to be a part of transcribing these stories.  I am humbled by the strength and courage of these men and women who sit and recount their stories so that the rest of us may understand this part of our history. The overwhelming appreciation that I have always had for the men and women of our Armed Forces has been strengthened by these interviews. In just a very tiny way, I feel that I have helped to preserve the stories of all of these people,” Keegan said.

Orris concurs: “Another meaningful part of transcribing these interviews was preserving their story. I think that has a whole new meaning in itself that we as reporters get to transcribe these stories, and they’re saved forever in the archives for people to read years from now. It gives you a special feeling to be able to have done something like this.”

For more information on NCRF’s Oral Histories Program and to get involved, visit NCRA.org/NCRF/OralHistories, or contact April Weiner, Foundation Manager, at aweiner@ncra.org.

NCRF enters into agreement with the United States Holocaust Museum to transcribe histories of Holocaust survivors

The National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) is very pleased to announce our agreement with the U S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (the Museum) in Washington, D. C., to have court reporters transcribe the histories of Holocaust survivors.  The Museum currently has a registry of over 200,000 records related to survivors and their families from around the world, and NCRF is honored to be able to provide assistance in transcribing them for posterity and public research.

This new initiative falls under NCRF’s Oral Histories Program, which offers reporters a way to give back while also raising awareness of the court reporting profession to the general public. Other organizations under OHP include the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, which captures the poignant oral histories of American wartime veterans; the National Equal Justice Library at Georgetown University, which contains histories of notable professionals who have provided pro bono legal services to the poor; the Center for Public Policy & Social Research at the Central Connecticut State University, an official VHP partner, with a collection of 200 oral histories; and the Illinois State Library Veterans History Project.  Currently, NCRF has submitted more than 3,300 transcriptions to these organizations.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated in 1993, as a living memorial to the Holocaust.  The Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.  Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors.

The Museum has welcomed more than 36 million visitors, including 96 heads of state and more than ten million school-age children. Their website, ushmm.org, the world’s leading online authority on the Holocaust, is available in 15 languages and, in 2013, was visited by more than 12 million people representing 226 countries and territories.

Their collection includes over 14,000 stories, and the Museum is identifying those that are 90 minutes or less.  Certified court reporters will receive 0.25 PDC for each transcription, up to a maximum of 1.0 PDC in their certification cycle.  If you are interested in transcribing these moving stories or if you want more information about the Oral Histories Program, contact Irene Cahill, director of research and NCRF programs, at icahill@ncra.org.

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Court reporters are “keepers of the record” for important historic events like Holocaust, others

Court reporters are “keepers of the record” for important historic events like Holocaust, others

Court reporters are known as “keepers of the record,” and this mission is especially important when significant historical events and trials need to be recorded. When witnesses for such events as the Holocaust have come forward to give their testimony, court reporters have been there to record their words for posterity. The importance of this work was recently highlighted by the passing of Vivien Spitz, one of the last living stenographers of the Nuremberg Trials in Germany. After her assignment, Spitz made it her life’s work to ensure that the events of the Holocaust, including the euthanasia program, the pseudoscientific medical experiments, and other crimes against humanity, are not forgotten. The U.S. Congress has marked April 27–May 4, 2014 as this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Week.

Other important testimonies that court reporters have recorded include the oral histories of family, friends, first responders, and investigators involved with Flight 93, which crashed 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, 2001, and veterans’ war experiences for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

In the 10 years that NCRF has partnered with the Library’s VHP, NCRA members have submitted more than 3,200 transcripts, as well as additional transcripts to other program partners, including the National Equal Justice Library at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., the Center for Public Policy & Social Research at the Central Connecticut State University, and its latest partner, the Illinois State Library.

Anyone interested in getting involved with transcribing oral histories can contact Irene Cahill, director of research and NCRF programs.

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NCRF enters into agreement with the United States Holocaust Museum to transcribe histories of Holocaust survivors

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