A family memoir project spans three generations, unveils a legacy of dyslexia, and pioneers crowdsourcing translation
Eric Goldscheider’s grandmother, Berta Allerhand Landré, had a profound positive influence on him. “Some of my best childhood memories are of her telling me stories from her life,” says Goldscheider G’93. Landré’s stories spanned a happy childhood in an empowered working-class community all the way to surviving World War II as a Jew in Germany and Czechoslovakia. “She made sure I learned German, and introduced me to German and Austrian culture on my frequent trips to visit her in Europe.”
In the decade before her death in 1982, Landré handwrote and then recorded on cassette tape stories from her life. Goldscheider, now 63 and himself a grandparent, digitized all 35 hours of the recordings 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until he took a job driving for the Valley Transporter in 2016 that he began listening to them in earnest.
The stories felt especially relevant given the trends in contemporary politics: Landré lived in Cologne when Hitler took power, fled to Prague in 1937, and was sent to a concentration camp during the last four months of the war. “Some of the stories were familiar. Some filled gaps in my knowledge,” says Goldscheider. “I also wanted to share them with friends.” But how many would be able to understand German?
As he listened, an idea formed. Goldscheider is dyslexic, “a disability that also carries some advantages,” he says. “It occurred to me that had my grandmother not made those tapes, I would probably never have read her manuscript.” Nor would he have uncovered clues that her father was likely dyslexic, as was her husband, Goldscheider’s grandfather. He found himself with a great deal of written and recorded information about three women in succeeding generations spanning the 20th century: his great-grandmother, his grandmother, and his mother, who is still alive, and who has written about her own life during the war and after. “I began to realize that I was onto a family tale in which the presence of dyslexia was answering questions for me that I never knew existed,” Goldscheider marvels. “Add in that it was also a Holocaust story with strong female characters who revered books and literacy. I wanted to bring it to a wider audience. The question was how.”
With support from UMass Amherst and the Five Colleges, Goldscheider began to build a crowdsourcing translation project. He recruits crowd translators from all over the world, through live and recorded presentations. With encouragement from the Five College Digital Humanities and Blended Learning program, the Translation Center, and the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies, Goldscheider spread the word and developed a website (www.BertaLandre.org).
Landré’s text is now available on the internet in three different formats. The 1,819-page handwritten manuscript is online at the Center for Jewish History digital collections by way of the Leo Baeck Institute, an archive of Jewish life in Central Europe before the Holocaust. There is also a manuscript typed by Landré’s friends after her passing, which Goldscheider scanned with Optical Character Recognition and produced a PDF that users can search, copy, and paste.
Goldscheider spent several weeks dividing the 35 hours of audio recordings into 600 individual audio clips and posting them to SoundCloud. These are the crowdsourcing units. Goldscheider asks people to choose an audio clip, translate it into English, record themselves reading their translation on a cell phone, and then email him the script, the audio file, and a photo of themselves. He also asks each participant to indicate how public they are willing to be on social media.
Before the pandemic hit, Goldscheider had begun talking with German language instructors at UMass Amherst, and Amherst and Hampshire Colleges, about engaging students through coursework or extra credit. Brian Shelburne, the head of the Digital Scholarship Center in the Du Bois Library, has taken an interest in the project as an example of digital humanities that is also multi-sensory. As a person with dyslexia, Goldscheider points to the “universal design” aspect of the project. It is someplace where text-proficient people can have a meaningful experience, and he hopes that many do. But, thanks to multiple points of access to the text, it is also inviting to people with learning disabilities who might not think of themselves as translators. All are welcome to post to his blog.
“The goal is to stockpile submissions until there is enough audio material for a podcast team to go to work on editing and shaping it into something to appeal to a wider audience,” says Goldscheider. In the meantime, “it’s an interactive learning tool that students of English and German of all ages can use to practice language skills, get a glimpse into history and, if they want, showcase themselves and their work by being part of an international project.”
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