Philip Maisel’s Oral History of Jewish Holocaust Experiences

Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne ….

The JHC has over 1300 video testimonies as well as over 200 audio testimonies in its collection. These provide eyewitness accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as glimpses into the vibrancy of pre-war Jewish life in Europe. The collection is widely used by researchers and students of oral history, the Holocaust and a variety of other disciplines. The testimonies’ project began in the 1980s as the Melbourne Oral History Project, established by Sandra Cowan and Jenny Wajsenberg and later co-ordinated by the late Anne Bernhaut. They conducted over 200 audio recordings of Holocaust survivors.

 Phillip Maisel has been recording a testimony of Holocaust survivors for 25 years. (ABC News: Peter Drought)

In the early 1990s, with the purchase of a video camera, the Video Testimonies’ Project was launched. Holocaust survivor, Phillip Maisel, began volunteering and immediately recognised the enormity of the challenge, given the passage of time and the ageing of survivors, so he made it his passion and goal to interview as many survivors as possible. He has dedicated himself tirelessly to the task. The 1300 testimonies collected are a testament to his energy and perseverance. Phillip was awarded an OAM in recognition of his efforts. More recently he has turned his focus to the ongoing challenge of digitising the collection and  has taught himself to work in a digital environment. Future challenges include improving the testimonies’ database, as well as indexing the collection to make it more accessible for researchers.

If you would like to give your testimony or know of someone who is interested in giving a testimony, please contact Phillip Maisel on (03) 9528 1985 or email: 

Below is an example of the video testimonies we collect from survivors of the Holocaust.

Mama, let me go – Testimony by Mrs Genia Rovi
 In 1939, the Nazis occupied the city of Lodz in Poland. The Jewish population was confined in the Ghetto where many atrocities were committed. This testimony is from Mrs Genia Rovi describing such events, and was taken on the 19 September 1998 at the Jewish Holocaust Centre, by Mr Phillip Maisel as part of the Video Testimonies Project.

For more examples of the Suvrivor Testimonies taken by the Centre, please visit our “Eyewitness: Short-form Survivor Testimonies” page.

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How ‘the screw of miracles’ Phillip Maisel found his twin sister and his purpose, May 27, 2017 09:51:15

Phillip Maisel binds adult an aged print of his twin sister Bella Hirshorn.
Phillip Maisel continues to request a stories of survivors like his sister Bella. (ABC News: Peter Drought)

For Phillip Maisel a stories of pyre survivors are like examination lava effervescent adult from low inside. A blazing mishap they need to release. “Testimony is a routine where people display their middle life to a open and my aim as a interviewer is to get all a contribution as tighten to a truth.”

For a past 25 years, a tech-savvy 94-year-old has been recording a stories of survivors in his possess temporary studio during a Melbourne Holocaust Centre. He’s helped by a tiny rope of volunteers. “If people survived, it was a miracle,” he said.“When we wish to remonstrate people to give a testimony, we usually tell them ‘You had a payoff to tarry a Holocaust, we should pronounce for those that can’t do it anymore’.”

He’s made available 1,600 testimonies. The longest runs for 10 hours. “The fact that we was in a pyre somehow creates it a bit easier. we can know them and they can know me.”

“When I’m interviewing I’m a machine. we am listening and recording it, though when we go home and start to consider about it afterwards yes, we feel pain.”

‘The final time she saw me’

In among a DVDs and tapes stacking adult around him, is a story really tighten to his heart, that of his twin sister Bella Hirshorn.

Bella and Phillip with their arms around any other in Poland in 1929.
Bella and Phillip, in 1929, could promulgate usually by “looking during any other”. (Supplied: Phillip Maisel)

Bella frequency talks about a holocaust. It is too upsetting. However, her adore for her hermit was done transparent in her available 1993 testimony. “I have dual brothers. A twin hermit who is a best thing that ever happened to me in my life. we am really beholden to my relatives for him,” Bella pronounced in a testimony. Growing adult in Vilna, afterwards in Poland, a Maisel twins were inseparable. “We would wear identical outfits. We were during propagandize together, during home together, on holidays together,” Phillip recalls.

They also common an surprising Yiddish accent. Not that they indispensable to pronounce much “We were very, very, close. We could promulgate with usually looking during any other.”

“Wherever we went, my sister went with me.”

When a Germans arrived in Vilna in 1941, their lives altered dramatically. By September, Jewish families were being given 20 mins to container their effects and leave their homes.

Bella Hirshorn, as a immature woman, smiling in a field.Bella Hirshorn in 1946 after she was reunited with her brother. (Supplied: Phillip Maisel)

Phillip and his father were forced to pierce to a Jewish Ghetto, an area of Vilna where a Germans forced tens of thousands to live. Bella managed to equivocate a oppressive and miserable conditions of a ghetto. Using feign papers, she hid in plain sight, sanctimonious to be Polish. “It’s intensely dire to live outward a poor and fake that we are a Pole when we are a Jew,” Phillip explained.

Two years upheld before Phillip was ripped from his sister completely. She watched on as soldiers, liquidating a ghetto, arrested her hermit in a travel and dragged him away. “I was operative for a German establishment that could strengthen a Jews from being arrested and deported,” Phillip said. “So we showed him my papers and [the solider] pronounced ‘not today, no papers are valid’.

“My sister saw it and ran after me to a embankment though unfortunately she couldn’t assistance me.”

“That was a final time she saw me in Vilna.”

Bella told a yet-to-be-aired documentary called Not Without You, about a day her hermit was taken. “My father was very, really dissapoint and pronounced we should have left with him,” she said. For years the twins struggled to survive, any not meaningful what had happened to any other. Phillip was taken from Vilna to a tough work stay in Estonia, afterwards to countless thoroughness camps opposite assigned Europe. At one indicate both twins finished adult during a Stutthof Concentration Camp during a same time, though never knew a other was there.

A unhappy kind of freedom

Phillip was released in 1945 while on a genocide march. “First we was really happy. we was free,” he said. “But afterwards we realised that we was somewhere in Germany … we didn’t know what had happened to my family. It was a very, really unhappy feeling.”

Phillip and Bella on a motorcycle in a 1940s.Phillip Maisel rode his motorbike a homogeneous of 500 kilometres to collect his sister. (Supplied: Phillip Maisel)

He was all alone. He would after learn his father was killed during Klooga. Yet a possibility assembly with a male from a American-controlled section of Germany returned wish to Phillip’s life. The male was looking for his possess family when he struck adult a review with Phillip. “He pronounced we have a really humorous Yiddish [accent] and we know another lady who speaks with a identical accent. She is in my camp,” he said. “I pronounced to him we know her name. It’s my sister.

Phillip rode his motorbike a homogeneous of 500 kilometres to collect his sister. “[It was] one of a happiest moments. It gave me meaning, we didn’t have to consider usually about myself, we could caring about my twin sister.”

Three million Polish Jews were killed during a holocaust.

Seventy-two years on, Phillip rings his sister any morning to ask how she is and tell her a continue forecast.

‘Tell a universe what happened’

It was while struggling to tarry in an Estonian work stay that Phillip done a guarantee he has kept to this day. “The conditions in a stay were terrible, we were certain we had a very, really tiny possibility of survival. We betrothed one and another if we are propitious to tarry we contingency tell a universe what happened to a Jews,” he said. “When we ask me is it infrequently formidable to listen to a testimonies we am fulfilling something that we betrothed and this creates it a small bit easier.”

The survivor’s stories have been told and retold to Phillip over a decades. He says memories change and over time things turn some-more critical to those who survived. He has also started to talk a third generation, to see if a mishap of a pyre has influenced a descendants of pyre survivors.

First posted ………………. May 27, 2017 08:15:18

At 94, Phillip can still be found filming during a Jewish Holocaust Centre. He’d like to see his work publicly permitted one day. “What is intensely critical in this plan is that it teaches people humanity,” he said. “If a tellurian competition wants to tarry we should be entirely unwavering of being tellurian beings, we should adore any other instead of hatred and a outcome of hatred is terrible.”

Topics: world-war-2, human-interest, history, judaism,community-and-society, film-movies, melbourne-3000, germany

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Kill Any Sikh: The Anti-Sikh Pogrom of 1984 in Delhi in Bhawan Singh’s IMAGES,” 26 March 2017,

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Brass, Paul (ed) 1996 Riots and pogroms, New York University Press.

Chakravarti, Uma & Haksar, Nandita 1987 The Delhi riots, Delhi: Lancer International.

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Kearney, Robert N.1970 “The 1915 riots in Ceylon: 9-a symposium,” Journal of Asian studies, 29: 219-22.

Roberts, Michael 1994 “The agony and ecstasy of a pogrom: southern Lanka, July 1983,” in Roberts, Exploring confrontation. Sri Lanka: politics, culture and history, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 317-25. …. Reprinted in Nethra, 2003 vol. 6: 199-213.

Roberts, Michael 1994 “Mentalities, ideologues, assailants, historians and the pogrom against the Moors in 1915,” in Roberts, Exploring confrontation. Sri Lanka: politics, culture and history, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp.149-81… reprinted as “Marakkala kolahalaya…, in Roberts, Confrontations,

Roberts, Michael 2017 Professional mourners in Ceylon and Southern India,” 3 March 2017,

Roberts, Michael 2017 “Anguish as Empowerment … and A Path to Retribution,” 22 March 2017,

Michael Roberts Papers now at Barr Smith Library, Adelaide University

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