Shoah adds testimonies from Rwanda

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education has begun expanding its collection of testimonials by preserving and sharing video testimony from survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The institute plans to expand its Visual History Archive by 2012 to include 50 testimonies from Rwandan survivors and witnesses, the Shoah Foundation announced Friday.

Donald Miller, executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture and professor of religion and sociology, said USC can play an integral role in the preservation of history from the Rwanda genocide.

“I am very pleased that the Shoah Foundation is sharing its expertise with survivors of the genocide in Rwanda,” he said. “Western nations ignored this atrocity in 1994, refusing to see it as a genocide, even though more than 800,000 Tutsis were killed in 100 days. It is important to document this genocide because history tends to repeat itself.”

Testimonies from the genocide have been collected in Rwanda by the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. Through this partnership, the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center will maintain ownership of the files, while the Shoah Foundation Institute helps to build expertise in visual cataloging and dissemination of the testimonies.

The expansion of the Visual History Archive was made possible by collaborations with IBUKA, a non-profit organization that represents survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The Shoah Foundation Institute has conducted 10 pilot interviews with Rwandan survivors living in the United States and has indexed them according to the institute’s methodology.

Current visiting fellows at the Shoah Foundation Institute, who are Rwandan genocide survivors themselves, are working with the staff to develop an indexing terminology for the new testimonies that will be added to the Visual History Archive.

“The lesson we’ve gotten from the pilot program is that survivors want to come forward, and they come with the mindfulness that they are speaking on behalf of those who did not survive. They are leaving a legacy so people know what happened,” Karen Jungblut, director of research and documentation at the Shoah Foundation Institute, said in a press release. “For people who were meant to be eradicated, these testimonies are an important reassurance that their lives and their stories are important to the world.”

Steven Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which was the precursor to the institute, in 1994 after producing Schindler’s List. The Foundation was created to gather video testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust.

The Visual History Archive has grown to hold 52,000 video testimonies in 32 languages, representing 56 countries since the institution’s founding.

The Shoah Foundation is helping give genocide victims a voice, Stephen Smith, executive director of the Shoah Foundation, said in a press release.

“We cannot compare human suffering, but its causes and consequences must be compared, with the historical integrity of each experience clearly delineated in a manner that is deep and respectful,” Smith said.

Richard Dekmejian, a professor of political science who is involved in researching with the Shoah Foundation Institute, said the current archive is one-of-a-kind.

“The work of the Shoah Foundation Institute is unique and unprecedented as a world center of genocide documentation for survivor testimonies,” he said. “This massive effort [began] with Holocaust testimonies, and now [will] include the Rwandan Genocide, the Armenian Genocide, as well as other genocides to be covered in the future.”

Dekmejian said students can directly benefit from the Shoah Foundation’s collection of testimonies.

“Dozens of my students have used Holocaust testimonies with great success and I am delighted to be associated with the Shoah leadership and faculty to further my own research on comparative genocides,” Dekmejian said.