A Talking Trove of Interviews as AJC Oral History Goes Online

Bella Abzug, Hank Greenberg, Golda Meir and Molly Picon Speak

Mr. Oral History: Milton Berle is one of the subjects of the interviews that the AJC collected.
Getty Images
Mr. Oral History: Milton Berle is one of the subjects of the interviews that the AJC collected.

By Jon Kalish

Published March 07, 2014, issue of March 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Ever wonder what Detroit Tigers’ slugger Hank Greenberg really had to say about anti-Semitism? Or how Congresswoman Bella Abzug felt about sexual discrimination? From the late 1960s to 1990, some 2,000 people were interviewed for the American Jewish Committee’s William E. Wiener Oral History Library.

Recorded on audiocassette, these interviews comprised more than 6,000 hours of taped material and included conversations with many prominent Jewish Americans in the worlds of politics, sports and the arts. Along with Greenberg and Abzug, some of the highlights of the AJC’s collection include interviews with Isaac Bashevis Singer, Golda Meir and Milton Berle.

This collection was acquired by the New York Public Library’s Dorot Division over twenty years ago. But only now is this treasure trove of Jewish history being made available.

Roughly half of these interviews have been digitized for preservation purposes. The full audio interviews are not currently avaible online. Visitors to the library can listen to them on cassettes, and excerpts of the audio recordings can be heard on AJC’s web site.

Charlotte Bonelli, director of AJC’s archives, said the interview with theater legend Molly Picon is one of her favorites. The actress spoke of her experience performing for Holocaust survivors after the Shoah and one appearance in particular where rain had caused the performance to be cancelled but the audience implored her to “Sing, sing, sing.” Picon also recounted a trip to Korea to visit American soldiers who gave her notes to call relatives when she got back to the United States.

“There’s something very wonderful about listening to these [oral histories] in the person’s actual voice rather than just reading [transcripts],” said Bonnelli. “You really get the flavor of the period and the character of the person. I think that often they were probably more relaxed than they may have been for a TV or radio interview.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.