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Arts & Culture

"Henonville Songs" Found Among Holocaust Survivor Interviews at University of Akron

photo of University of Akron researchers
James Newhall (left) reconstructed a wire recorder that could play the "Henonville" spool. Jon Endres, Dr. Jodi Kearns, and Dr. David Baker (left to right) work and research at the Cummings Center.

Among a collection of wire recorder interviews with Holocaust survivors, researchers at the University of Akron have discovered a previously lost spool containing traditional songs sung in German and Yiddish.

One of the survivors on the recording is Guta Frank. After World War II, she ended up in a refugee camp in Henonville, France. Psychologist David Boder made the recording while visiting the camp.

The University of Akron’s Cummings Center for the History of Psychology acquired roughly 48 spools of Boder’s recordings in the late 1960’s. Dr. David Baker is the executive director.

Baker says finding a device that could play the recordings was a challenge, but it was worth the effort.

"For us, the discovery of putting a wire--a spool of wire--on a machine, and then hearing someone singing, a voice that hadn't been heard in 70 years, was pretty powerful."

According to Baker, Boder wanted to measure the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors by analyzing how they described their experiences.

In the case of Guta Frank, this included changing the words of traditional folk songs.

“She altered the words of the song from, ‘Our village is burning’ to ‘The Jewish people are burning.’ Certainly a reflection of her firsthand witness to the horrors of the Holocaust," Baker said.

Baker’s team is in the early stages of digitizing and transcribing the songs. The recordings will eventually be available online through the Cummings Center website.