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Fall 2004
In Their Own Words
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David Boder conducting research
David Boder researching in his lab

Photographs from
the estate of David Boder

David Boder recording the memories of survivors in Europe and studying the physiological responses to stress in his lab.

Boder’s interviews cover an enormous variety of wartime experience, not all of it from inside the camps. One of the most haunting stories concerns a family hiding from the Germans in the woods of Poland. The father, mother, adolescent daughter and 3-year-old son lived in constant fear of discovery. Eventually the father announced they would have to leave their son behind — he made too much noise and could give them all away. The mother refused, and the father left the family. Near starvation, the mother and daughter risked their lives by entering a Polish village to beg for food. When they returned to their hiding place, the boy had died. The mother died from grief a few days later. Only the daughter was left to tell Boder her family’s story.

Evalyn Segal was a student when she worked for David Boder in the summer of 1953. “He wanted to analyze the interviews’ ‘adjective-verb ratio,’ to see if that would provide an index to the speaker’s emotional state,” she recalls. “I was 21, just about to start graduate school in psychology in the fall.

“I must have read each of the transcribed interviews three or four times. I would sit at my desk, tears streaming down my face, trying to count adjectives and verbs. What I was learning was a revelation to me. When I told my parents about it, they were alarmed that their little girl was being put through such an emotional experience — as if it weren’t a crucial, and welcome, turning point in my life.”

Boder worked at UCLA from 1952 until his death in 1961. Of the 109 interviews, only eight had been published in his 1949 book, I Did Not Interview the Dead. Boder transcribed 70 interviews in all. The other 39 interviews have never been transcribed. His papers are in the collection of the UCLA Library’s Department of Special Collections. The original recordings are in the Library of Congress.

— C.M.

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