Written by Justine Rothbart
“To be honest, I couldn’t have imagined that Manna was still alive. Perhaps that’s one of the problems with being a historian — we assume that the people we read about live only on paper.” Rebecca Erbelding, the archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who oversees the museum’s material, said this in a recent article in the Washington Post. She was talking about the story of Martha “Manna” Weindling Friedmann who worked at Weir Courtney, the estate in Lingfield where Holocaust children survivors were given a home after the war. “I can’t tell you how long I’ve stared at these photos,” Erbelding said, “When you stare at them long enough, you know them.”
It’s an unusual feeling working with archival collections. You feel as if you know the people, but you also feel as if they cannot exist outside of the paper. Reading this article just reinforces that as archivists, many of us get this feeling. It is the feeling of knowing someone, knowing their stories, and knowing their emotions. Yet, often times, we are unable to meet these people we seem to know so well. What intrigued me about this article is how the archivist actually met the people who used to live only on paper. She gave a tour of the museum to two Holocaust survivors, Andra and Tatiana Bucci, who both lived in Weir Courtney after the war. She also accompanied Andra and Tatiana to visit Manna Weindling Friedman who they described as a “second mother” from Weir Courtney.
Stories like this one shows the range of roles of an archivist. We are the advocate, the teacher, and the memory keeper. We are the ones that connect the stories to the rest of the world. Who knows how many more roles we will acquire. All those roles morph into the exciting the ability to travel into the past and sometimes having the past become the present.
Click here to read the Washington Post article.