The USC Shoah Foundation has begun the process of restoring the 5 percent of 235,005 tapes in its Visual History Archive that were previously considered unsalvageable.
The tapes were part of the Institute’s Preservation Project, an endeavor to convert its 52,000 Holocaust survivor testimonies into familiar and conservable digital formats. The process took four years and was finished in June 2012.
According to Ryan Fenton-Strauss, video archive and post-production manager for the Shoah Foundation Institute, this process of mass digitization involved robotic technology and a quality assurance process in which any video with a production issue — either video or audio — was flagged for further assistance.
The Institute then began the Restoration Project, through which the Shoah Foundation’s Information Technology Services staff aims to restore the nearly 12,000 tapes that require further work. Many of the tapes were fixable via commercial hardware and software, but others required a more complex solution.
Fenton-Strauss said that after a frustrating period of time in which he and his coworkers found themselves getting nowhere with the damaged tapes, he wondered how the commercial hardware and software was correcting the other thousands of tapes.
“If we could break down the video into images, we could drop the ‘bad’ images and replace them with the good parts of the images,” Fenton-Strauss said.
With the help of ITS intern Sindhu Jagadeesh and the Google Picasa tool, Fenton-Strauss was able to write software that deciphered the good images from the bad and inserted the missing images.
The Picasa tool, however, proved to be limited in its recognition abilities, and a more powerful tool was necessary to continue with the project. Fenton-Strauss’s intern Ivan Alberto Trujillo Priego suggested a stronger image recognition software, known as National Instruments’ Vision Builder, which has thus far worked for the ITS team.
“In one video, the survivor’s face was completely gone, and we were able to bring back an image in black and white,” Fenton-Strauss said.
Many believe the Preservation and Restoration Projects are a vital part of keeping the memories of Holocaust survivors alive.
Kimberly Goldstein, a sophomore majoring in occupational therapy and psychology, stressed the significance of honoring the memories of Holocaust victims.
“It’s important to preserve what these survivors have to say so that we can keep teaching younger generations about this,” Goldstein said. “We need to make sure that it never happens again.”
The efforts of Fenton-Strauss and the Shoah Foundation Institute are important not only for learning purposes, but also for those whose families were directly affected by the Holocaust and wish to keep their relatives’ memories alive.
Daniel Silvermintz, a sophomore majoring in international relations global business and the president of Chabad @ USC, would not have been able to see his grandfather’s testimony had the Shoah Foundation not digitized the videos.
“My grandfather survived the Holocaust; he passed away last year during my first week of college. I had never seen his testimonial, but I knew that he had done one,” Silvermintz said. “I knew that when I came to ’SC, I would be able to see it. So I went to the library, and I was able to watch his testimonial video.”
Silvermintz believes the firsthand accounts of these survivors will allow their memories to carry on long past their own lives.
“As time goes on, as the generation that survived the Holocaust passes away, it’s going to be much, much harder to have those firsthand accounts and feel a real connection and understand the magnitude of the tragedy that really happened,” he said. “So, having these video records from people who witnessed it firsthand allows people to connect on a personal record and empathize.”
The ITS team is nearly halfway done with the Restoration Project and is set to finish in July of 2014.