New Pitt Web Site Tells Story of Early Pittsburgh As Seen Through the Lens of the Jewish Community

Issue Date: 
September 30, 2009

Several hundred residents of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community joined University of Pittsburgh archivists and members of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) Sept. 29 to launch NCJW’s online oral history project—Pittsburgh and Beyond: The Experience of the Jewish Community.

The new Web site,, allows users to listen online to more than 500 audio interviews of area Jewish residents—many of them immigrants—compiled by a small group of volunteers over a 40-year period.  The site, designed and built by a team at Pitt’s Archives Service Center, includes detailed abstracts of each interview and is searchable by key words, a personal name, geographic region, or subject. It is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind.

Gathering in the ballroom of the University Club, the group heard how the idea for the project surfaced in 1968, when a group of NCJW women thought it was important to preserve the stories of Jewish immigrants by recording their experiences. Trained volunteers interviewed Jewish men and women who came to the United States from Eastern Europe between 1890 and 1924.

In 1973, NCJW launched a second phase of the project—compiling the oral histories of Pittsburgh’s Jewish men and women who made contributions locally, nationally, and internationally. Overall, 516 individuals were interviewed between 1968 and 2001, including former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff; late musician Lincoln Maazel, father of Grammy Award-winning conductor, former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director, and Pitt alumnus Lorin Maazel; the late William Block, publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; pioneering breast cancer researcher Bernard Fisher, Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Surgery; and Pitt Distinguished Service Professor Julius Youngner, senior scientist of the Pitt polio vaccine team.

A number of interviewees were in attendance at Tuesday’s luncheon and were recognized, along with their family members.

“It is amazing to hear the history of the Pittsburgh Jewish community in the actual words and voices of the people who lived it,” said Marcia Frumerman, oral history project leader for NCJW.

“The result of the partnership between Pitt’s Library System and NCJW is a gift to the world,” said Rush Miller, Hillman librarian and director of the University Library System. “These interviews illustrate an entire century of a community through the eyes of its residents, including the fight to overcome political corruption, the struggle for women’s rights, and the journeys of immigrants. It is a reminder of the strength and fortitude of those who came before us.”

Ed Galloway, head of Pitt’s Archives Service Center, explained to the audience the archival process: Boxes of audiocassettes were digitized and the printed guide entered into a database. The two components were then merged to create an easily navigable site that includes convenient fast-forward and rewind buttons, making all parts of the interview quickly accessible.

Following the luncheon, family members of those interviewed for the project received a silver gift-wrapped box. Inside was a CD of their family members’ interview.