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A man wearing headphones looks at a monitor.

With a computer connected to the University's Internet servers, a person can use more than 50,000 keywords, as well as the names of every person mentioned in the testimonies, to search the Visual History Archive.

Remembering the Holocaust

New video archive gives the campus--and the public--access to 52,000 testimonies from Holocaust survivors and witnesses

By Christopher James

March 9, 2007

The woman on the screen sits in the living room of a Burbank home. She's 80 years old.

"I couldn't stand any more suffering," she says. "I was talking to God. I said, 'Please, God, how much are we going to suffer? What did we do wrong? Can you help? Please help us.' And then the next day they moved us to Bergen-Belsen [concentration camp]."

The woman is Claire Codron, one of nearly 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses whose testimonies are part of the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation Institute's Visual History Archive (VHA), a video-based resource that is now available to the public through the University Libraries.

The VHA is the largest video archive of its kind in the world, with oral histories in 32 languages and from 56 countries. The vast majority of the interviews--about 90 percent--are with Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution; however, political prisoners, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and liberators, witnesses, rescuers, and aid providers are also represented in the archive.

"I couldn't stand any more suffering," she says. "I was talking to God. I said, 'Please, God, how much are we going to suffer? What did we do wrong? Can you help? Please help us.' And then the next day they moved us to Bergen-Belsen [concentration camp]."

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute grew out of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg to document the experiences of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. The Shoah Foundation currently provides licensed access to six universities worldwide, including the University of Minnesota. These partners can, in turn, give users access to the entire archive over the high-speed Internet2 research network. "The oral histories in the VHA are an invaluable resource for researchers," says University Librarian Wendy Pradt Lougee. "By studying the firsthand experiences of these survivors, scholars of history, religion, anthropology and many other disciplines can gain the authentic perspective that only primary source material can provide." Scholars on campus have already made significant use of the archive in their research. For example, Amelia Corl, a Ph.D. student in sociology, is examining collective memories of repression experienced by German Jews in Nazi Germany. "The Shoah VHA has proven to be an incredibly accessible site for [my research]," Corl says. "We were able, for example, to enter search terms that allowed us to identify those survivors who experienced the rise of Nazism in Germany (as opposed to German occupied countries), to easily identify their birth dates and to draw a stratified sample. The Shoah VHA also has a simple and efficient process for requesting, downloading and watching individual testimonies from any computer on campus." To access the archive, users--from the University community or from the general public--must be physically present on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. With a computer connected to the University's Internet servers, a user can conduct a variety of searches using more than 50,000 geographic and experiential keywords, as well as the names of every person mentioned in the testimonies and biographical information for each interviewee. University faculty like Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, say the archive will help promote the University of Minnesota as a leader in this field of inquiry. "The Holocaust is one of the most negative events in history," Feinstein says. "However, thanks to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, survivors and liberators have had their stories recorded and documented in a clear fashion in many languages. The archive offers many new opportunities for research and learning, especially for fields like history, sociology, psychology and foreign languages. This is a unique opportunity for the University of Minnesota to move to the front of Holocaust and genocide studies." Users can access the local VHA site at for additional information about the archive.