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Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive, Special Collections

Collection Profile

In 1994, after completing the film Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation to document the experiences of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. From 56 countries and in 32 languages, men and women recounted their life histories, including the suffering and horrors they witnessed and experienced during the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. Videotaped testimonies from every corner of the world streamed into the foundation's Los Angeles office, where they were digitized and indexed.

In total, the Shoah Foundation collected nearly 52,000 video interviews, creating the largest archive of its kind and preserving a vast well of primary research material. In January 2006, the foundation and its archive became part of the University of Southern California.

The testimonies contained in the Visual History Archive represent a diversity of experiences and perspectives. Interviewees include Jewish survivors, rescuers, liberators, political prisoners, Sinti and Roma survivors, Jehovah's Witness survivors, participants in war crimes trials, survivors of eugenics policies, and homosexual survivors.

In their interviews, survivors and witnesses speak about their lives before, during, and after the Holocaust. At the conclusion of their interviews, they show photographs, documents, and artifacts on camera. Several hundred interviews contain literary and musical performances or displays of artwork. More than 150 interviews were given by survivors and witnesses at sites of former concentration camps, ghettos, and mass graves.

The archive is international in scope. Nearly 20,000 interviews were conducted in the United States, 8,500 in Israel, and more than 3,000 in Ukraine. Other interview locations included Canada, Australia, South Africa, and countries in South and Central America and in western, central, and eastern Europe. Almost 25,000 interviews were conducted in English, while more than 7,000 were given in Russian, and over 6,000 in Hebrew, among other languages.

The testimonies were indexed such that users can search the more than 50,000 subject keywords and one million personal name records that are linked to time codes in the video. This creates rich and varied avenues of electronic access, allowing researchers to find, for example, specific geographical locations; descriptions of prewar education and religious observance; eye-witness accounts of camps, ghettos, mass executions, and resistance groups; personal experiences of postwar immigration; and the names of family members, friends, victims, or perpetrators.

In addition to USC students and faculty, scholars, genealogists, documentary film makers, exhibition organizers, writers, journalists, and the public regularly use the archive for research purposes. With its partners worldwide, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education utilizes the archive to develop educational programs for use in secondary schools in many countries and languages. USC Libraries Special Collections and the institute share resources to maintain, develop, and promote public access to the Visual History Archive.

Collection Profile and Overview: Crispin Brooks
Illustrations: USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, University of Southern California

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