An introduction to My Voice
My Voice is a unique storytelling project which publishes the life story books of Holocaust Survivors and Refugees, from Greater Manchester and the Northwest – in their own voices.
To date the project has published 35 books, with another 10 in the process of production. Currently 26 of the books are showcased here, and those remaining will be added on an ongoing basis.
The first nine books were created as part of a joint venture with the Association of Jewish Refugees. Several have since been edited, and further content added, before republication by My Voice.
My Voice is run by The Fed – Manchester’s largest Jewish social care charity. The project operates as a standalone, independently-funded endeavour under the umbrella of the charity’s Volunteer Services department.
In June 2021, My Voice was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the highest possible accolade for a voluntary sector group.
What makes My Voice unique?
Sitting within a social care charity and offering its storytellers ‘wraparound’ support via The Fed’s wide-ranging social care services, differentiates My Voice from other Holocaust testimonial projects.
Its methodology, as later described, lends it further distinction.
How did it all begin?
The original concept for My Voice was provided by Margit Cohen, a Survivor who came to the UK on the Kindertransport in 1938. In 2015, Margit told Juliette Pearce, the My Voice project manager:
“I need you to tell my life story – my whole life story before I die”.
Within a year her story had been documented, though sadly she passed away shortly after it was published.
In accordance with Margit’s wishes for her own book, each story encompasses the author’s entire life – before, during and after the war years.
During conversations with their My Voice volunteer-befriender, a storyteller’s heritage and experiences are audio-recorded. Following this, their words are religiously transcribed to capture their authentic voice. This could not be achieved without Dictate 2 Us providing My Voice with their transcription services and also volunteers who undertake a transcribing role
A Safe Space
The project’s main goal is not only the production of the books. The process of supporting Survivors in telling their stories is also paramount. Providing a safe space for the storytellers is key.
The aim is to empower those who have suffered profound traumas, enabling them to open up, in many cases, having been unable to do so until their involvement with My Voice.
The priority is to support them with the utmost care and sensitivity, allowing them as much control of the process and time as they need. In this way they are able to share how they survived unimaginable horrors and rebuilt their shattered lives – raising families, creating businesses, and contributing to the communities they came to call home.
This powerfully supportive approach aims to provide a healing, purposeful and validating experience which helps Survivors to overcome psychological obstacles.
Sitting within the volunteer services department of The Fed, a social care charity, My Voice can offer a ‘wraparound’ service’ to its storytellers.
They are able to access support from The Fed’s wider team of volunteers who provide emotional and practical support with tasks such as shopping and essential errands and escort people to medical appointments/treatment. Volunteers also offer respite to carers enabling them to take a break from their caring role, to recharge their batteries.
If necessary, storytellers can be referred by My Voice to The Fed’s Community Advice and Support Team, for social work assessment and support.
They may also be able to attend The Fed’s social and support groups, designed to counter loneliness and social isolation and boost people’s wellbeing.
In their Own Words
Each life story book consists of words spoken by the Survivor – they are not ghost-written.
Whilst this makes the production, especially the editing process, longer and more complex than might otherwise be the case, it results in a book that captures each Survivor’s authentic voice. Family members often comment, when reading their loved one’s book, that they can actually hear them speaking.
Praise for My Voice
My Voice has received a great deal of praise from a number of prominent individuals and UK and international bodies, such as Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, the Wiener Holocaust Library, and Yad Vashem (the World Holocaust Remembrance Center). These can be read below.
The project has previously received Heritage Lottery Funding.
The project works closely with Yad Vashem which houses a collection of life stories in its library. Several project volunteers have undertaken Holocaust educator training with the center.
“I think The Fed are the only group in the world producing something like these books …These individual stories are incredibly powerful to have, especially as we move on from the general narrative … They are more impactful than simply walking through a museum …
“[They are] a different tool to use for education purposes … and touch people in very special ways.”
Dr Dan Tsahor, Director of the Libraries Department
The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has supported the project over recent years and asked that all completed lifestory books be housed in Manchester Central Library:
“It is imperative that we do everything in our power to protect the legacies of Holocaust Survivors. The fact that so many of the people who have taken part in this project have not given their testimonies to anyone previously, highlights the importance of this work.”
“The My Voice project has huge potential to impact on countless individuals through increased outreach and education projects. I wholeheartedly commend it to you, not just as one of the most powerful of current Holocaust Education projects in the UK, but also as a very special testament to the stories, lives, and legacies of Holocaust Survivors.”
Rob Thompson, Former Senior Programme Manager, CCJ
“Your excellent resources have allowed our pupils … to understand the Holocaust on a more personal, human level …
“We believe that working with the My Voice project has been an invaluable learning experience for [them] …
“Speaking about the Holocaust entails dealing with numbers … However, since the Holocaust was a series of atrocities inflicted by people on people and a matter of great moral and ethical significance, it is crucial that the human experience of the victims be told in the first person so that it may be at least partly understood …
“Pupils that have recently arrived from the Ukraine have been particularly touched by the positive messages that can be taken from learning about refugee history …”
Andrew Gerschler, Head of History and Politics
Amplifying their Voices
The Future of My Voice
Xenophobic nationalism alongside far left and far right antisemitism are on the rise, whilst more than half of remaining Survivors have passed away during the last five years. Those still alive are of extremely advanced age, and many are sadly no longer in good health.
For such reasons My Voice’s work is filled with a sense of great urgency, there being a very real risk that people’s stories will die with them. To address this the project is pursuing plans for, or has embarked on, several crucial developments.
My Voice’s tiny professional team – made up of two part-time workers – provides support to storytellers; trains and supports volunteers and oversees the editing, proof-reading, design, and production of, as yet, unpublished stories. At the same time it is imperative, for the reasons above, that the project finds ways to amplify the storytellers’ profound messages so that these can reach more people in the present day, and in the future.
The following initiatives have been or will be launched to preserve the stories in various formats and allow them to be shared on a much wider scale:
My Voice has committed itself to a new project entitled ‘Chapters’ which will undertake the filming and recording of storytellers while reading aloud chapters, or short excerpts, from their books.
The aim is to augment the content of the storybooks with powerful, engaging footage, which will be available for schools, colleges and universities as an educational resource. These will enhance the accessibility and validity of the storybooks and help to secure the Survivors’ messages for posterity.
As at December 2022, the pilot Chapters project has filmed three storytellers. Many others have expressed their eagerness to take part and guarantee that their words will live on.
Education & Enablement
The adoption of education and awareness as a central goal, and the support of storytellers to tell their stories in person.
Storytellers will help to educate a group of young people, as ‘My Voice Guardians’. They in turn will pledge to share the Survivors’ stories now and safeguard their telling in the future when the Survivors are no longer able – so that they are never allowed to be forgotten.
National Project – Yad Vashem UK
In December 2022 My Voice announced the expansion of its geographical remit to London and the Southeast, in partnership with Yad Vashem UK. A full-time member of staff will recruit a cohort of volunteers and oversee the running of a project in parallel with My Voice Manchester.
Through collaboration with a range of organisations and institutions, such as the Imperial War Museum North, Salford City FC and the Weiner Library, My Voice will continue to amplify the voices of its storytellers and enhance awareness and understanding of the Holocaust.