The experience of participating in the Witness project was very much different from what I initially expected. Starting from a small degree of knowledge about the Jewish community of Sheffield, Amelia and I approached our interviewee with a view of gaining a brief insight into this group and its history. Our interviews with Judy Simons were far more rewarding than this however, not least the insight we gained concerning Judy’s work with the Sheffield Jewish Journal. As a result, I greatly wish to further my research into this area of Sheffield’s Jewish history, especially as it appears to have so far been somewhat neglected.
Though I have always been rather more interested in Early Modern History, the oral history element of this project has demonstrated to me the worth of the local element of contemporary history. I would recommend the Witness scheme to all my fellow history students, especially those considering a career in the area of public history. It has added a practical aspect to my degree experience, which with such subjects is often harder to achieve.
I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Witness project. Although it proved a different experience to what I initially envisaged, I now feel that I know significantly more about the Jewish community of Sheffield, about Judaism, and Jewish culture as a whole. Our interviews were a great success, and we were particularly fascinated by the work that Judy is doing on her family history, especially on the Jewish Journal. In the future, I hope to work in law or journalism and so the interview techniques I have developed have been of huge benefit. In addition, I now have a better understanding of the communities that I live amongst and I feel that the knowledge and first hand experience of oral history have enhanced my degree. I have special interest in twentieth-century social and cultural history and the Witness project has provided me with the opportunity to learn about aspects of this that otherwise I may never have done. The Witness project has certainly aided both my degree studies and my personal curiosities, and I would definitely recommend it to other students.
The Woolman family is of a Jewish family who travelled to the UK from Lithuania in the 1860s and settled in Sheffield. The orphan boy is my father, David Brown, whose mother was Annie Woolman, and who was brought up in Sheffield by his grandparents, Mark and Fanny Woolman after his parents’ deaths when he was six. You will see that there is a picture of Paradise Square which was the centre of Jewish life in the early years of the twentieth century, and a picture of the Hebrew School in 1910. There is also a photo of the science class at the Central School, Sheffield, in 1926, which includes my father. Note the bare boards on the school room floor.
Interviewers: Molly Preger and Amelia Shaw