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Gathering and Preserving Testimonies

From their headquarters at the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO), Alfred Wiener and his colleagues used their unrivalled network of contacts to collect over 350 eyewitness accounts describing the events of 9 and 10 November 1938 in cities, towns and villages throughout Germany and Austria.

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Gathering of Eyewitness Accounts

The 356 documents comprising this special JCIO collection about November 1938 are particularly significant because they were mostly collected in the days and weeks immediately following 9-10 November 1938 itself. They are different in nature from those based on memories recalled years later, which some other organisations have obtained. Testimonies collected later are inevitably modified and influenced by other intervening personal experiences as well as by versions and interpretations of the events by historians, politicians, journalists and others. The direct, unmediated nature of the Wiener Library's testimonies makes them all the more important, accurate and valuable.

The original texts were created on 636 single-sided sheets of fairly thin white foolscap-size paper using a typewriter with a black ink ribbon. They were typed single-spaced and some have a few handwritten annotations, such as a question mark or brief comment; the name and sometimes the address of the person giving the report are also included in several cases.

Image of a letter

Each report has a unique number in the sequence from B.1 to B.353 (B. presumably is an abbreviation of Bericht [report]) with five additions (B.62a, B.175a, B.333a, plus B.1001 and B.1002 at the end), and two unused numbers (B.342 and B.343). There is no obvious logic to the numbering sequence: it is not arranged chronologically, geographically or by source. Several reports do carry a date, and an approximate date of some others can be worked out by context.

Most of the dated reports were created in November and December 1938; others were prepared in January and February 1939, and the remainder originated sporadically in the following weeks. The last few were typed in the early summer of 1939, just before the JCIO was packed up and moved to London in August 1939.

Today the Library speculates that the reports were sourced using the JCIO's several usual modes of information gathering, including face to face interviews, telephone conversations, letters and written reports, selecting and cropping newspaper articles, and obtaining informal intelligence via conversations and correspondence with other organisations and contacts.

The reports vary in length: the shortest is a mere 13 words, the longest is about 12,400 words, and the medium-length reports average around 800 words. Short reports (under 500 words) comprise 45% of the total, medium-length reports make up approximately 52% of the total, and the long reports make up the remaining 3%. The total word count of all the reports is approximately 195,000.

Almost all (333 or 93%) of the reports were written in German, although 18 reports are in Dutch, five in English and one in French.

Subsequent Preservation and Publications

Some time after the Library had been moved to London in 1939, the bundle of 356 documents was bound into a single volume between red leather boards, probably in the 1960s. In addition to the reports themselves, another bundle of pieces of white paper of much smaller dimensions (under A6 size) and in a small plain envelope, came to light at the Library. They are typed in black ink on one side with names and sometimes addresses or other information about the sources of reports B.130 to B.200, with perforations at the top suggesting they were detached from the same notepad in order to be typed.

In 1998 the main reports were microfilmed for inclusion in Testaments to the Holocaust , a microfilm document collection published in that year, the 60th anniversary of the 1938 events. Around that time the damaged red leather binding holding the reports together was removed. Over time this binding had become increasingly frail and started to disintegrate. The 636 sheets were rebound in two large-format folio volumes fitted into a slip case.

A decade later, for the 70th anniversary in 2008, the microfilm reels were digitised and re-published by Cengage together with other content as an online database for subscribers.

Also in 2008 the Wiener Library published the 356 reports in German as a small (20 x 13 cm), but thick (over 930 pages), hardback book entitled Novemberpogrom 1938 , which included introductory essays by Ben Barkow (Wiener Library Director), Raphael Gross and Michael Lenarz (Frankfurt am Main Jüdisches Museum, Director and Deputy Director respectively).

Until now the documents were only available in German, and thus restricted to a small proportion of the general readers, students, specialists and scholars worldwide who seek to understand the Holocaust and the events that heralded it.


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