At the entrance of the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education in Leavey Library, a framed picture of survivors hangs in the hallway with a quote from Holocaust survivor Walter Thalheimer encapsulating their mission: “When you see an injustice, stand up, speak up, take a stand.”
Founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994, one year after his Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List, the USC Shoah Foundation preserves testimonies of genocide survivors, employing inventive technology to expand their audience.
The Shoah Foundation initially sought to highlight stories of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. Now viewed as the world’s largest archive of genocide testimonies, these personalized accounts illuminate stories of survivors around the world.
As the organization expands the conversation to recognize more incidents of genocide, the foundation plans to further develop the Visual History Archive Program. The program enhances how users can connect to these testimonies. Currently housing a collection of more than 53,000 eyewitness testimonies of genocide, the Visual History Archive has seen considerable growth since its inception. Now, by using their search engine, finding these testimonies only requires clicking a few buttons. These testimonies are provided by witnesses from 63 represented nations and in 39 different languages.
One of the foundations many testimonies includes one by Liu Suzhen, who after 80 years revealed her experience surviving the Nanjing Massacre. With the death toll of the massacre at 300,000, her testimony will be added to a well-established reserve of fellow survivors. Described by the Los Angeles Times as the “bloodiest episode in the Chinese theater during World War II,” her memories during this two month rampage will be used to educate and inspire.
As the foundation moves forward, they are discovering new ways to maximize outreach initiatives. According to public communications manager Josh Grossberg, the current goal of the Shoah Foundation is to continue expanding.
“Right now we are available at 50 university museums around the world,” Grossberg said. “Our demand is growing and we want to reach as reach as many people as possible.”
The program has plans to implement a five-year plan sought to increase accessibility on more platforms and introduce a new Visual History Archive platform leading to better search results.
A major component of the Shoah Foundation is its use of cutting-edge technology which gives people a chance to interact with these personal stories in unique ways, according to Grossberg.
“We are recording and interviewing Holocaust survivors using new technologies that allow for us to record for voices using voice recognition software with the goal of people actually being able to ask questions to a three-dimensional image of a survivor and engaging in a conversation with them,” Grossberg said.
As the foundation continues to educate the next generation by applying technology to shed light on these testimonies, they hope to further advance in time for the institute’s 25th anniversary in 2019.