How a chance discovery let us listen to these Holocaust refugees' songs one more time.

David Boder carried with him a state-of-the-art wire voice recorder and 200 spools of steel wire tape. It was all he needed to capture the voices of an entire people.

It was July 1946 and Boder, an American psychology professor, was on a boat headed to a Western Europe that was just beginning to recover from World War II. He was going there to talk to refugees and Holocaust survivors.

A group of young Holocaust survivors at a home in Hampshire, England, in late 1945. Photo by Keystone/Getty Images.


The year before, as the Allies advanced through Nazi territory, they freed prisoners from the concentration camps. Though technically free, many of the prisoners did not have homes to return to, and instead they ended up in refugee camps throughout Europe.

Boder had a few simple goals. His mission was academic — recording how living through something like the Holocaust changes someone's personality — but it was also humanitarian. He wanted to help preserve these people's oral histories.

By giving them a voice, Boder, an immigrant himself, hoped his recordings would encourage Americans to accept Jewish immigrants.

Boder worked at an incredible pace for the rest of the summer, traveling to four different countries and interviewing at least 130 different people. Toward the end of his journey, he was interviewing as many as nine people a day, recording not just their stories, but also religious services and songs.

He used up every single inch of wire.

Since 1967, researchers at the University of Akron in Ohio have been the keepers of a portion of Boder's spools. Recently, they decided to digitize their collection.

Most of Boder's work has survived to the present day, but one of his spools, known as the Henonville songs (named after the refugee camp in France where they were recorded) had long since disappeared. People assumed it had been lost to time.

But as researchers at the university's Cummings Center for the History of Psychology were going through their archives, they discovered that one particular canister had been mislabelled. The Henonville songs were rediscovered.

Getting the songs off the spool wasn't easy. It would take more than a year.

Though the university had a number of wire voice recorders, none of them would work with the spool. Producer James Newhall finally found a compatible model through coworker Litsa Varonis, who spotted one on eBay and got her husband to fix it up.

The new recorder mid-modernization. Image from The University of Akron.

Even then, it took considerable tweaking to get things right. In the end, they were able to revive the lost recording.

"That we could give the world the melody to a song sung by those sentenced to their death ... is remarkable," said the Cummings Center's Dr. David Baker.

The discovery of these songs was shared with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which now has a digitized copy of the spool for its collection. You can listen to some of the lost Henonville songs below.

“Fraytik oyf der Nakht (Friday at Night)"

This song was performed in Yiddish by Yuel Prizant. In it, the singer reminisces about their family coming together the night before the Sabbath. A version of the song, with lyrics and a translation, is available here.

"Undzer Shtetl Brent (Our Village Is Burning)"

This song was sung in Yiddish by Gita Frank. At the beginning of the recording, she says that the composer's daughter would sing it in the cellars of the ghetto in Krakow, Poland, to inspire resistance against the Germans. Both the composer and daughter were later killed.

Frank also tweaks the song's original refrain from "our village is burning" to "the Jewish people are burning." The original song's full translated lyrics are available here.

"Unser Lager Steht am Waldesrande (Our Camp Stands at the Forest's Edge)"

This recording, also by Gita Frank, is a German rendition of the "anthem" of the Brande forced labor camp, where about 800 Polish Jews were forced to build the Reichsautobahn, or highway system.

It was common for Nazi administrators to make prisoners sing songs as they worked or moved.

In the song, Frank sings about how the camp stands at the edge of a proud, snowy forest. In the morning, various companies of men march to the build site (the Brande camp had both male and female prisoners). At night, a guard stands watch.

A version of this song's lyrics in German is available here.

Songs were provided by and used with permission of the University of Akron's Cummings Center for the History of Psychology.

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.