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Vida “Sister” Prince’s commitment to document people who have endured difficult life experiences has been the driving force that led her to her work in oral history. As an independent researcher and historian, she showcased her skills and talents in diversified oral history projects with multiple communities, including Jewish, African American, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Laotian.
“Sister” is the author of That’s the Way It Was: Respect, Struggle and Survival in Black St. Louis, 1900-1960; an oral history of fifteen African Americans who were born in the first half of the twentieth century, who describe how it felt to live with prejudice and segregation. Excerpts of the interviews with Demosthenes DuBose, Pearl Shanks and Salimah Jones from That’s the Way It Was, were published in Gateway Heritage, the quarterly magazine of the Missouri Historical Society, Spring 1997. The excerpt of the Demosthenes DuBose was also published in Ain’t But a Place: An Anthology of African American Writings about St. Louis, edited by Gerald Early and published by the Missouri Historical Society Press in 1998.
Most recently, the History Press in Charleston, South Carolina, published “Sister’s” book and released it in February, 2013, for Black History Month. The title is “That’s the Way It Was”: Stories of Struggle, Survival and Self-Respect in Twentieth-Century Black St. Louis.
However, seventeen years before these publications and fourteen years earlier than the establishment of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, inspired by his film Shindler’s List, Vida Prince had already begun working with the Oral History Project for the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies, renamed the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center (HMLC). Her foresight in helping to create this project in 1980 put her at the vanguard of the universal recognition of the importance of preserving Holocaust survivors’ testimonies.
A cadre of twelve volunteers started the oral history project, with Vida emerging as the chair in 1981, where she has remained since. The survivors, haunted by their memories, had an intense need to bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. Vida was there to listen to their testimonies. She quietly and gently gave them the help and support they needed to speak publicly about the atrocities they endured and stayed with them in the aftermath to give comfort and solace. Her warmth, accessibility and patience laid the foundation of trust for those so deeply wounded. For thirty-two years she has devoted her life of volunteer service to this groundbreaking and on-going project.
Vida, always eager to add new testimonies, has increased the scope of the project to contain liberators, rescuers and witnesses, including people of other faiths. Recently she organized an initiative to interview survivors and witnesses from the former Soviet Union in their own language, in order to preserve their important place in the history of the Holocaust.
Since the beginning, Vida has remained constant, both to the project and her personal and supportive relationships with the survivors. She serves as the ‘institutional memory’ for the Oral History Project, as well as for the early days of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.