A growing collection of in-depth interviews with people of all ages and backgrounds, whose stories about the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture offer a rich and complex chronicle of Jewish identity.
Dana Szeflan-Bell's Oral History
Dana Szeflan-Bell - child survivor of the Holocaust and native of Warsaw, Poland - was interviewed by Christa Whitney on May 15, 2011 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dana begins her interview with detailed descriptions of her family and their lives in Poland prior to WWII. After the war they settled in Montreal. She recalls her grandparents' professions and their sophisticated lifestyles. She also discusses stories her parents shared with her growing up; stories of happy times before the Holocaust. Dana was one year old when the war broke out in Poland. She tells the story of how her father, anticipating an attack on Warsaw by Hitler, moved the family to the outskirts of the city. This anecdote begins an incredibly detailed account of how Dana and her parents survived the war. Dana shares unbelievable stories about her family's move from Poland to Russia and back to Poland and then to Germany, and finally to Canada. She tells dozens of stories including stories about the two times when she and her parents were separated, her time in a work camp in Russia, and time spent in areas of Russia like Uzbekistan where her Muslim neighbors helped her family survive. Dana then reflects on her post-war life and explains how the family encountered anti-Semitism when they moved back to Poland. She recalls how the anti-Semitism was so bad in the area that her father insisted they move to Germany where they eventually lived in a Displaced Persons camp near Vienna. Dana recalls happy times in the Displaced Persons camp for, as she explains, it was the first time in her life she had food, entertainment, and friends. The final portion of Dana's interview focuses on her time living in Montreal. Dana shares stories of her time in the Peretz School where she learned Yiddish for the first time and her first experience being in love. As the stories unfold, Dana shares the difficulties of her mother's loss to breast cancer, how she met her first husband, and her first job at the age of fifteen. Dana speaks to the important of the Yiddish language, welling up while singing her favorite Yiddish song—a song about children who perished in the Holocaust. Dana ends her interview insisting that tolerance is the path to religion.
This interview was conducted in Yiddish and English.
Dana Szeflan-Bell was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1939.
Video highlights from this oral history
Back in Poland, Murder at a Wedding53 seconds
A Child Holocaust Survivor Sings a Yiddish Song About the Ghetto3 minutes 39 seconds
Religious and Cultural Life in DP Camp After WWII1 minute 38 seconds
Learning About Shoes47 seconds
Educating Christian Teachers About the Holocaust3 minutes 14 seconds
Separated at the Train Station1 minute 59 seconds
"Life is serendipity, you know": An amazing story of separation and reunion during WWII7 minutes 3 seconds
"The War Wasn't Over for the Jews": Memories of Life in the DP Camp1 minute 23 seconds
Yiddish Is My Religion3 minutes 16 seconds
More information about this oral history
- Jewish Identity
- Yiddish language
- Immigration and migration
- World War II
- Soviet Union
- Eastern Europe
- Western Europe
- Yiddish speaker
- Family histories
- Jewish education
- Food and culinary traditions
- Cultural transmission
- Yiddish learning
For other download options:
About the Wexler Oral History Project
Since 2010, the Yiddish Book Center’s Wexler Oral History Project has recorded more than 500 in-depth video interviews that provide a deeper understanding of the Jewish experience and the legacy and changing nature of Yiddish language and culture.
Tell Us Your Story
Do you (or someone you know) have stories to share about the importance of Yiddish language and culture in your life?