While filming “Schindlers List” in Krakow (Poland) survivors had voiced their desire to talk about their memories in front of a camera. Inspired by this, the film’s director Steven Spielberg initiated a project to document testimonies of the Holocaust. To accomplish this, he started the non-profit “Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation” (Shoah Foundation) in 1994. The foundation’s task was to videotape survivors’ stories to make them available for educational purposes for later generations.
The USC Shoah Foundation aimed to videotape, catalogue and index approximately 50.000 interviews with survivors of the Holocaust. The declared goal was to document as many personal accounts of witnesses of the Holocaust as possible. Between 1994 and 1999 the organization videotaped 52.000 testimonies in 56 countries and 32 languages.
Most of the interviewees are Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. However, other victims of persecution such as Sinti and Roma, politically persecuted, homosexuals, Jehova’s Witnesses and survivors of the nazi eugenic-programme had been interviewed as well. Furthermore, rescuers and aid providers, liberators and liberation witnesses as well as war crimes trials participants had also been amongst the interviewees. Between 2000 and 2006 the USC Shoah Foundation had digitized, catalogued and indexed the collected materials (approximately 120,000 hours of film ) and made it available in the Visual History Archive. In this way, the world’s largest collection of interviews about the National Socialism and the Holocaust has been created.
In 2006 the Shoah Foundation became a part of the University of Southern California (USC). There the USC Shoah Foundation. The Institute for Visual History and Education was founded. After finishing the interviewing process and the archiving the main focus of the Shoah Foundation Institute is on the distribution of the material for research and education purposes. The organization follows an educational approach: It is assumed that telling stories represents essential and effective means to pass on memory and to sensitize for tolerance. The goal is to preserve the memory of survivors and make it accessible for later generations. During the last years many materials and programs with a pedagogic approach have been developed and distributed.
Meanwhile, the Visual History Archive is being expanded to include collections of interviews with survivors of other genocides. Since 2014, it includes a collection of 64 audiovisual testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide. The interviews were conducted in the USA and in Rwanda in English and Kinyarwanda and are a result of a cooperation with the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Since February 2014, the archive includes also 12 interviews with survivors of the Nanjing Massacre of 1937/38. These interviews were conducted in Nanjing/China in Mandarin and are the result of a cooperation with the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. By April 2015, the USC Shoah Foundation will begin to integrate the collection of interviews conducted by Dr. J. Michael Hagopian with survivors and witnesses of the Armenian Genocide into the Visual History Archive.
The USC Shoah Foundation cooperates with approximately 50 selected institutions worldwide, which offer a full access to the archive. Thanks to the cooperation with Freie Universität Berlin, since 2006, students, faculties and researchers at Freie Universität have the opportunity to easily and effectively access the testimonies of the Visual History Archive.