Researchers Rebuild Old Tech to Play Lost Recordings of Holocaust Survivors

The main gate at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Image Credit: Michel Zacharz AKA Grippenn via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

In 1965, the University of Akron acquired a set of audio interviews with Holocaust survivors following World War II. Their historical significance was immense, but there was just one problem: The technology required to play them had become obsolete. Now, more than 70 years after they were recorded, Cleveland Jewish News reports that the university finally has a way to listen to them.

The recordings were made by David Boder, a Latvian-born U.S. psychologist who made it his mission to gather testimonies from Holocaust survivors while the event was still fresh in their minds. He used wire reels to record the audio, but by the 1960s the medium had been phased out by changing technology. What’s more, his own personal recorder, which was also given to the university, had broken down by that point.

With 48 of Boder’s wire spools in their possession and no way to hear the contents, a team from the University of Akron got to work making a player of their own about three years ago. They purchased a nonfunctional wire recorder from eBay and used that as their foundation. From there, the team updated the machine with modern components. “[…] some parts I found in my basement and some parts I found from other electronic suppliers,” James Newhall, project leader and Akron’s senior multimedia producer in instructional services, told Cleveland Jewish News.

The device was successfully tested for the first time in November 2016. With a functioning wire recorder, the researchers are now able to listen to and analyze the reels Boder left the university. (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provided translations of the recordings.) Among the interviews are two pieces of music sung by Guta Frank, a Holocaust survivor who spoke with Boder at a refugee camp in France. The first song, titled “Our Village is Burning,” was commonly sung at German commemoration ceremonies. In the rediscovered recording, Frank can be heard changing the original lyrics from “our village is burning” to “the Jewish people are burning.”

The second song Frank sang for Boder was “Our Camp Stands at the Forest’s Edge.” This was an anthem the Nazis forced Jewish prisoners to sing at a labor camp in Poland, and while the lyrics have long been known, this is the first time researchers have heard the melody. After studying the recordings, the university eventually hopes to convert them into a digital archive. You can hear a clip of one of the recordings in the video below.

[h/t Cleveland Jewish News]

Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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