"A sense of urgency informs our work, for the stories we preserve in tape and transcript will soon be irretrievably lost."
These words are from the Web site of the Youngstown State University Oral History Program, which for almost 30 years has been collecting the personal narratives of northeast Ohioans.
The statement is painfully true today, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
For those of us whose parents lived through World War II, it doesn't seem like a forgotten occurrence -- the slaughter of millions of Jews. But, as with all history, it is slipping away.
This is a perfect day to explore YSU's collection, either in person at the Maag Library, or via the Internet, where you can access 1,100 interviews.
Interviewers have recorded and transcribed our neighbors' narratives about athletics; acting; World War II; Vietnam; Youngstown College; brickmaking; the steel industry; Greek, Puerto Rican, Romanian, Russian and Italian culture; and much more.
For Holocaust Remembrance Day, I visited some of the nine links to Holocaust interviews.
Lou Schotland's oral history was taken by Mary Ann Seman in 1980. Schotland and his wife, Dorothy, were Youngstown residents and both Holocaust survivors. He was 17 when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.
"Things were very bad," Schotland told Seman. "They started with the educated people and they beat them up. They established a fear in the people, so later the masses fell into it. I was caught by the Gestapo to work as early as 1940, to work in the stables to clean horses."
Schotland told of the herding of Jews into ghettos. "You see," he said, "what happened in Poland is they took the Jewish people from a large area and they squeezed them into smaller areas and smaller, smaller areas. Then they evacuated my parents and my wife's parents into Eastern Poland to Treblinka and we never saw them again."
Later, Schotland was separated from his wife and sent to various concentration camps, including Auschwitz. It was not until after the war that he discovered his wife had survived as well.
Schotland's narrative talks about conditions in the camps, the march he made to Blechhamer and how he came to Youngstown with no job, speaking only Polish.
Another oral history was taken from George Jacobs, one-time owner of George Jacobs' Kitchens in Girard. At 24, Jacobs was sent to a slave labor camp. Two years later, according to the interview taken by Barbara Crowley, the camp was taken over by the Nazi SS as a concentration camp.
Recalling the beginning of the invasion of Poland, Jacobs said, "Families were broken up; that was the tragedy of the whole Holocaust, the beginning of it ... It was so bad the year it started that ... mothers and fathers and children weren't a neat bundle anymore. Everyone was for himself. ... Every human being had a holocaust of his own. My family ceased to be a unit Sept. 1, 1939."
Perhaps the most detailed recollection is that of Robert Clary, taken by Hugh Earnhart. His memories include those that preceded the Holocaust: "I remember my childhood with great fondness. I lived in an apartment house in a very beautiful section of Paris called Ile Saint Louis. ... When I was a child, it looked gigantic. ... We would play the games that children all over the world play: cops and robbers, marbles. I always loved going to the movies."
His childhood was abruptly altered when "suddenly I realized that I was different. ... Suddenly I had to wear a yellow Star of David."
YSU's Oral History Program has done a great service for us all.
XThe oral histories are accessible online at www.maag.ysu.edu. Select the "Digital Collections" link, then click the "Oral History Collection" button. Scroll down and select a category, then an interview. Next choose, "Connect to the document (Adobe Acrobat Reader required)." If you don't have Internet access, every public library does. And the documents also are available at YSU's Maag Library.