On Monday, April 23, members of the University of Pennsylvania community gathered to celebrate a new partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, granting the University access to the Institute’s 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. This coalition makes Penn the first University to earn campus-wide access to the archives.
University President Amy Gutmann, whose father fled Nazi Germany in 1934, stood proud on Monday evening as she introduced the archives. “All of these people are our family,” she explained. “We are joined together by our humanity. [Through this partnership] Penn is trying to make these lived experiences accessible so that we might safeguard our future.” Gutmann’s words were meant to mirror George Santanaya’s famous quote, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a familiar refrain in Holocaust studies. Both Gutmann and USC Shoah Foundation Institute Executive Director Steven Smith expressed excitement for the future of the archives and their ability to educate future generations on the horrors of the Holocaust.
In 1994, inspired by the survivor testimony he heard while directing the Oscar-winning film, Schindler’s List, director Steven Spielberg determined to give all survivors an opportunity to have their experiences heard. Out of this effort, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation was born. Later absorbed by the University of Southern California, the archives have grown to hold approximately 105,000 hours of testimony from 58 countries and in 34 languages, making the Shoah Foundation Institute the world’s largest digital history archive.
The videos in the archive are well-organized and navigable, breaking down survivor testimony by experience groups (the large majority are Jewish survivors). Individuals can search by names mentioned in the narratives or the location of the interview, among other characteristics. In granting the University of Pennsylvania access to this collection, the Institute has taken a crucial step in disseminating the stories of survivors to the widest possible audience.
(Photo credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for USC Shoah Foundation Institute)
Colette Bloom is a student at the University of Pennsylvania and a feature editor for 34th Street.