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!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • 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.