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Stories of Holocaust survivors unveiled to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Posted on 26/01/2012

The moving and often heartbreaking tales of Holocaust survivors, as told in their own words, are now available through video footage for the first time in the UK.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London’s Holocaust Research Centre now have access to the nearly 52,000 video interviews with Holocaust survivors and other witnesses collected by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, which was established by Steven Spielberg.

Access to the archive has been made possible by a significant grant from Pears Foundation, a major funder of Holocaust education in the UK.  Pears Foundation is a British family foundation rooted in Jewish values. Its work is concerned with positive identity and citizenship.

The partnership between Royal Holloway and the Shoah Foundation Institute at the University of Southern California is being announced to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27.  

The Institute’s Visual History Archive features the first hand witness testimonials of survivors such as Kristine Keren, who remembers how she and her father escaped from the Lwów ghetto in Poland and spent 14 months hiding in the sewers beneath the city. Irene Weiss describes the liberation by the British Army from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany in April 1945 and how, by the time of her liberation, she was too sick and too numbed by her experiences to feel any emotions even though she realized the war was over.

“Survivors’ testimonies contain a wealth of information about the Holocaust and life in the 20th century that is unique to testimony,” Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, said. “Royal Holloway, University of London has positioned itself to become a global leader in testimony-based research now that this resource is available to British scholars.”

Inspired by his experience making Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg established the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute) in 1994 to gather video testimonies from survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. While most of those who gave testimony were Jewish survivors, the Institute also interviewed homosexual survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, survivors of Eugenics policies, and war crimes trials participants

Professor David Cesarani, from the Department of History at Royal Holloway, who is one of the world's leading scholars on the Holocaust, said: “These real-life accounts of Holocaust victims’ stories will help to ensure that the horrors, but also the many acts of kindness and bravery in the face of such adversity, are never forgotten. Royal Holloway is the only access point in the UK to these remarkable testimonies, and one of only a handful of access points in the whole of Europe. This makes Royal Holloway unique and creates a major research facility for work in Holocaust Studies that is unrivalled anywhere in this country.”

Royal Holloway is also holding a special lecture by award-winning TV documentary and film-maker Luke Holland on January 30.

Mr Holland, whose films include Good Morning, Mr Hitler (1993) and I was a Slave Labourer (1999), will report on his current project to develop a comprehensive archive of filmed interviews with former Nazis and perpetrators who, at the end of their lives, are willing to speak with appalling frankness about their part in the crimes of the Third Reich.

The lecture, Final Account – Third Reich Testimonies: Interviewing Former Nazis and Their Accomplices, will be held in the Windsor Building Auditorium at 6.15pm. Admission free, no booking necessary

For more information on the Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive and for a sample of videos visit http://dornsife.usc.edu/vhi/


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