Gratz College's 32-year-old Holocaust Oral History Archive contains interviews with more than 900 survivors of the Shoah, amounting to thousands of hours of testimony.
The interviews were all recorded by volunteers on analogue cassette tapes and, for years, Gratz officials have fretted over how to best permanently preserve the vocal recordings.
Now, school officials say they have found the answer.
The Melrose Park academic institution has entered into an agreement with Yad Vashem -- Israel's official national Holocaust memorial and one of the world's leading research institutions on the Shoah -- to back up the thousands of hours of recordings in a digital format.
In exchange for performing a service that would be far too expensive for Gratz to attempt, Yad Vashem will include the original interviews -- conducted in English, Russian, Yiddish and German -- in its own collection, said Josey Fisher, director of the archive. This should not only ensure the posterity of the interviews but will also make them more widely accessible.
"The preservation of the sound is crucial because it is the original voice of the individual," said Fisher, who helped start the archive with founder Nora Levin, who died in 1989.
Levin and Fisher offered the volunteers guidance but gave them wide latitude in the questions to ask during the interviews, which averaged about two-and-a-half hours in length.
It's not clear yet whether the material will be available online, said Fisher.
Fisher added that the contract between Gratz and Yad Vashem, signed last week, is not necessarily an exclusive agreement. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has about 120 of the Gratz tapes, along with transcripts, in its collection.
The collection includes testimonies of Kindertransport children. And because it began more than 30 years ago, it includes interviews with many survivors who were into adulthood when they experienced the Holocaust, offering a different perspective than those who survived as children.
The vast majority of the interview subjects lived in the Philadelphia area at the time they were interviewed. Many have passed on.
The Gratz archive predates the Shoah Foundation, spearheaded by Steven Spielberg, by 15 years.