News Roundup

Recent news stories that caught my eye from Austin TX, Lewiston NY, San Diego CA, Washington DC. Capturing stories of aging Mexican-Americans, Archival treasure-trove at Odd Fellows lodge, call for Washington DC secretaries, and the dwindling number of holocaust survivors.

Austin, Texas: Austin history project aims to preserve voices of elders.
Mexican American Oral History Project held a workshop this last weekend to train people to conduct interviews. Interviews will be conducted throughout the month of May. The article opens with a nice description of “the problem” that these oral histories seek to solve:

Many of us have parents and family who are entering the twilight of their rich lives. They have stories to tell — tales of bedazzling beauty and joy, of profound loss and heartache, of the mundane moments that fill the in between. They bear witness to history.

Among Mexican Americans, that history usually gets passed along orally, says Gloria Espitia, a neighborhood liaison for the Austin History Center. The trouble is that most families don’t record the stories of their elders, leaving historians and researchers little or nothing to work with and leaving Mexican Americans missing from the historical record.

Lewiston, New York (near Buffalo): Sharing treasure-trove of Oddities.
The Lewiston Odd Fellows seeks to preserve a collection of historic artifacts collected and stored over a 150-year period. Materials that date back to 1840 hold clues for genealogists and family historians, since there are membership applications (“a great source of names”). This particular site became the repository of archives from Niagara Falls and LaSalle when those lodges closed. Members of the local Arts Council have joined the Odd Fellows to access and help with preservation of the materials. The current “noble grand” who heads the lodge would like to see oral history shared—though it’s not clear from the article whether he means conducting oral history of current living members to augment the historical artifacts, or the written narratives contained among the papers.

Washington, DC. Washington Secretaries Oral History Project seeks interviewees.
Just in time for National


Administrative Professionals Week. Women who’ve worked as secretaries in politics and government are sought for their recollections. And you know they know more than anyone gives them credit for! Lillian Cox, freelance journalist and former secretary at the White House during Nixon, heads the project.

“Since the 1930s women have been the backbone of the workforce in the nation’s capital,” Cox said. “Many came initially to support the war effort during the Roosevelt presidency and later forged careers with subsequent administrations. My goal is to chronicle the important role these ladies played in American history and politics, a role that in many ways has been overlooked in historical literature.”

San Diego, California. Holocaust survivors, dwindling in number, still have stories to tell.
They gathered for last week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). More speaking engagements extend through May.

[Deborah Hertz, founder of UCSD’s Holocaust Living Histoyr Workshop:] People will not forget the Holocaust when the last survivor is gone, she said, but hearing one speak “just takes you one level further in your historical empathy, something that’s hard to do with books.”

The New Life Club—a group of holocaust survivors—has lost more than half its members since 2000; remaining members are in their 80s. They gather and tell their stories. They’ve been preserved in a local student-made documentary, and in the Shoah project (52,000+ interviews!), founded by Steven Spielberg and now housed at USC. The article profiles three members of The New Life Club who are telling their stories in events held by UC San Diego’s Holocaust Living History Workshop. Here’s one:

Gussie Zaks tells people how, starving and barely able to hold herself up, she rushed to an unguarded kitchen in Bergen-Belsen, another concentration camp. She stopped when she noticed a man in front of her had blood running from his neck.

She put up her hands, hoping the German sniper responsible for wounding him would spare her. He laughed at her, but he did.

She was 18.



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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on April 20, 2009 in • MemorabiliaOral history in the news
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