USC and Shoah Foundation Team Up
USC College to house world’s largest digital history collection. The Shoah Foundation visual archives honor Holocaust survivors, their families and the indomitable spirit of the human culture.
Like many girls her age, Rose Sher grew up watching and rewatching Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and “Jurassic Park.” But the 21-year-old USC senior no longer believes these timeless feature films will be the director’s true legacy.
Hundreds of years from now, Spielberg will be remembered for chronicling on video 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. He’ll go down in history for helping to create the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education.
The institute, which will house the world’s largest digital archive of audiovisual testimonies and be dedicated to scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, becomes part of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences on Jan. 1.
Sher, whose 89-year-old grandfather Joseph is a Holocaust survivor, was among the nearly 2,000 people who packed the university’s Bovard Auditorium, where Spielberg and USC President Steven B. Sample announced the establishment of the new institute Oct. 20.
“He was pretty awesome,” Sher later said of Spielberg. The account by Sher’s grandfather was among the testimonies from 56 countries included in the digital archive. “I think it’s really amazing that Steven Spielberg and USC are doing this.”
Sample, who introduced Spielberg at the event, told the crowd that the institute was well suited to USC.
First, he said, USC and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation share similar objectives.
He recounted how Spielberg established Shoah, meaning catastrophe or devastation in Hebrew, in 1994 after making the Academy Award-winning film “Schindler’s List.” The nonprofit organization collected the historical testimony and chose USC College as its home “because we can help communicate its message to an international audience.”
Both entities, Sample said, seek to nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance. Both believe in speaking out against hatred and bigotry.
In addition, the institute’s archives will help students and faculty contribute to the scholarship and teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides. Further, he said, the university has renowned expertise in digital and visual archiving based in the Leavey Library and the Information Technology Services.
Finally, USC can help communicate the Shoah Foundation’s message globally.
“By combining the strengths of the Shoah Foundation and USC,” Sample said, “we can work together to help eliminate the attitudes and prejudices that divide societies around the world.”
Sample told the crowd how extremely moved he was when he visited the Auschwitz memorial in Poland. The memorial appropriately honored those who perished, he said.
“But the Shoah visual archives are about the living,” he said. “They are about the survivors, their families and the indomitable spirit of the human culture. And that spirit will now be preserved in perpetuity.”
Sample announced Spielberg as “Dr. Steven Spielberg” because USC awarded the acclaimed director an honorary doctorate in 1994.
Spielberg, a USC Trustee, joked about being rejected by the university in the late 1960s.
“You know, I think the best thing USC ever did for me was not accepting my application to my transfer from Long Beach State,” said Spielberg, looking professorial in a forest green corduroy jacket and caramel-colored corduroy pants. “The best thing they ever did was to say ‘no’ to me and not let me become a USC student. I think that’s why I have been dogged and tenacious about becoming part of this university for all these years.”
Spielberg said USC was “where the Shoah Foundation belongs. This is the anchor that the Shoah Foundation needs, even more than symbolically, to reach out to other institutions all across the world to send the message of the 52,000 voices.
“They will never be silenced because we will protect them,” he continued. “They are digitally protected. They will never go away, and they will be there to teach generations to come about the horrors of the Holocaust. And will hopefully teach young people to never allow this to happen again.”
Spielberg called USC “one of the great research universities in the entire country and the world” and described it as the top university in the field of digital libraries.
“I’ve been with the Shoah Foundation since its birth,” he said. “And I still love it. And I’m thrilled that it will be spending its whole life with an institution that I love so much.”
He remembered when he decided to begin taking the testimony of survivors. He was in Poland filming “Schindler’s List,” when Holocaust survivors arrived to watch the reenactment of an event in their own lives.
“The courage they displayed just by traveling to Krakow, Poland, for the first time in 50 years, it was extraordinary,” he said. “Then they all wanted to tell me their stories.”
In one of the lighter moments, he added, “You must understand that people have wanted to tell me their stories for years and years, and it usually involves a lawyer and some kind of a deal.”
He felt he had a responsibility to tell their stories and launched the foundation.
Spielberg ended the event by thanking the Shoah Foundation’s directors and staff.
“It’s an incredible thing they did,” he said. “They were working for a goal that was beyond themselves. Their accomplishment was an accomplishment for all mankind.”
Speaking to the audience, which included his parents, he put both hands over his heart and mouthed the words, “I’m so proud.”
Sher, who also sat in the audience, remembered her grandfather who was in his 20s when the German Army took him and 1,000 young men from Czestochowa, Poland, to a camp in Lublin. Joseph Sher was one of three men who survived.
“I’m so grateful my grandfather’s story will always be remembered,” she said.
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