I have been in Zurich since Sunday evening, working in the ETH Archives of Contemporary History. One thing I love about historical archives are that they are generally underused. Therefore, when a researcher shows real interest in discovering new things and working on an in-depth project with the archivist and the documents available, they are pretty much able to do and see what they want. I have had a wonderful experience in the clean, well-lit room of the ETH archive, and have been warmly welcomed by the main archivist there. Contrary to popular belief, archival research does not involve me in a small cubicle in a dark, stuffy room, unless you find me working at certain archives in NYC, sans reading room.I am excited to have found individual collections from rescuers, adults in charge of kinderheims and orphanages for refugee children, and the documents, at least some of them, of the ORT and OSE in Switzerland (which I have been searching for!) I’ve accumulated over 400 new documents (mostly electronic, thankfully), and now have a lot more to work with. I know it doesn’t sound too exciting, but the documents are the basis for proving certain things that historians believe about how the situation was during a time period that we did not experience. It shows who provided money, who provided support, who was in charge of different aspects, such as children’s homes, camps du travail, travel, housing, etc, and what types of individuals these people were. Finding archival documentation makes the testimonies real, and highlights the things that are important trends in them.
I walked off the tram on Sunday evening in Zurich in the neighborhood where I was staying, only to find that there is, indeed, a Jewish shtetl in Zurich. There were young women with long skirts, boys with kippot riding bikes, in masses. Not just a few Jewish people like in Lausanne, but many. It was exciting to walk through this quartier and see that Jewish life in Switzerland was still alive, even if only in a few blocks.
Tomorrow evening I have an interview with a 91 year old woman in Zurich who worked for the SHEK, a women’s led organization that was responsible for over 5000 refugee children in Switzerland, both Jewish and non-Jewish, during the war. It should be very interesting!
I am off to Israel on Thursday. My parents will be there with me, which is very exciting! I’ll have to balance work and travel, but it can be done! Also, I am looking forward to my presentation at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I found out that some of the biggest Shoah scholars will be in attendance, but no pressure. I’ll keep you all posted!