Professor Jeffrey Shandler shared film clips of Holocaust survivors performing in Yiddish with a mesmerized audience last night at the fifth annual Naomi Prawer Kadar Memorial Lecture at YIVO last night.
Shandler, a professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, spoke about the ways in which Holocaust survivors incorporate Yiddish into their stories. He drew from the largest collection of videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors, which is housed at the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive. This collection includes hundreds of interviews conducted entirely or partially in Yiddish; Shandler personally viewed over 300 interviews for his research. The videos he showed include survivors singing and reciting poetry in Yiddish.
Shandler guided the lecture’s nearly 100 audience members through curated excerpts of these solemn and expressive survival accounts. He painted a picture of how Yiddish has played an integral role in how survivors share their stories with the world as well as how Yiddish has impacted contemporary Jewish oral history. He explained that though many of them chose to tell recount their stories, in their adopted English, Hebrew, Spanish or languages rather than their native Yiddish, recalling particular memories required Yiddish, the language of their youth and memory, one reason these performances are so exceptional.
Maya Kadar Kovalsky gave introductory remarks. She spoke about her mother, Naomi Prawer Kadar, a lifelong educator and a scholar of Yiddish. Kadar Kovalsky noted that although Naomi, the daughter of survivors, grew up speaking Yiddish in the home, she felt Yiddish transcended barriers. Kadar Kovalsky said, “In Naomi’s eyes, you did not need to grow up speaking Yiddish to learn and appreciate all of the art, history, humor and tradition the language has to offer.”
The Naomi Prawer Kadar Foundation seeks to reimagine education by supporting projects in innovative education, scientific and medical research, and Yiddish. The foundation hopes the Naomi Prawer Kadar Memorial Lecturewill bring topics of scholarly import in Yiddish language and culture to the public.