Girish Mahajan (Editor)

USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education

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USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education
Motto  Dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides a compelling voice for education and action
Founded  1994 by Steven Spielberg in the United States
Type  Research and Education Institute of the University of Southern California
Headquarters  University of Southern California
Location  Los Angeles, California
Key people  Stephen D. Smith (Executive Director) Stephen A. Cozen (Chair)

USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education, formerly Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides a compelling voice for education and action. It was established by Steven Spielberg in 1994, one year after completing his Academy Award-winning film Schindler's List. The original aim of the Institute was to record testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust (which in Hebrew is called the Shoah) as a collection of videotaped interviews.


In January 2006, the Foundation partnered with and relocated to the University of Southern California and was renamed the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education.

The Foundation conducted nearly 52,000 video testimonies between 1994 and 1999, and currently has over 53,000 testimonies. The bulk of the video testimonies expound on the Holocaust, including such experiences as Jewish Survivors, Rescuers and Aid-Providers, Sinti and Roma Survivors, Liberators, Political Prisoners, Jehovah’s Witness Survivors, War Crimes Trial Participants, Eugenic Policies Survivors, Non-Jewish Forced Laborers and Homosexual Survivors.

The vast majority of the testimonies contain a complete personal history of life before, during, and after the interviewee’s firsthand experience with genocide.

The testimonies are preserved in the Visual History Archive, one of the largest digital collections of its kind in the world. The Visual History Archive is digitized, fully searchable via indexed keywords, and hyperlinked to the minute. With more than 112,000 hours of testimony stored in the Archive, indexing technology is essential for enabling users to pinpoint topics of interest. Indexing allows students, teachers, professors, researchers and others around the world to retrieve entire testimonies or search for specific sections within testimonies through a set of nearly 64,000 keywords and phrases,1.8 million names, and 695,000 images. Each testimony is indexed by a native speaker and each minute of video is timecoded in English to a proprietary search engine using Institute-patented technology. They average a little over two hours each in length and were conducted in 63 countries and 41 languages.

The Institute has access to other primary resources in addition to the audio-visual testimonies. A Holocaust and Genocide Studies collection recently acquired by USC’s Doheny Library contains more than 1,000 original Nazi books and pamphlets, Jewish publications, microfilms with original documents such as Nazi newspapers and a nearly complete series of original transcripts of the International Nuremberg trials. Also included in the Doheny collection: early Holocaust historiography; early post-war publications of diaries and testimonies in various languages; and original papers of German and Austrian refugees from the Third Reich, including those of the famous German-Jewish writer Lion Feuchtwanger.

Meanwhile, the Institute's Visual History Archive is expanding its collection to include testimony from survivors and witnesses of other genocides, including the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda, the Nanjing Massacre, Armenian Genocide and Guatemalan Genocide. Sixty-four Rwandan testimonies were added in the spring of 2013, and 12 testimonies from survivors of the Nanjing Massacre were added in the spring of 2014, and 18 more were added in October 2014.

The Institute currently has 332 testimonies from the Armenian Genocide in the VHA, which were then integrated into the Visual History Archive by the event’s April 24, 2015 centennial and to commemorate the 20th century’s first genocide.


The Institute aspires to be the world’s academic authority on the study of genocide and personal testimony. It continues to incorporate new collections of genocide eyewitness testimonies while simultaneously fostering scholarly activities that confront real-world problems the testimonies address. Scholars in many fields have utilized the vast resources of the Visual History Archive to teach more than 400 university courses across four continents, including 112 courses at USC. Researchers and thought leaders have utilized the testimonies in more than 121 scholarly works and the archive has been central to dozens of conferences across a range of disciplines.

The Center for Advanced Genocide Research is the research and scholarship unit of the Institute. Founded in 2014, the Center is dedicated to advancing new areas of interdisciplinary research on the Holocaust and genocide, specifically discussing the origins of genocide and how to intervene in the cycle that leads to mass violence.. The Center holds international conferences and workshops and hosts fellows and scholars in residence to conduct research using the vast resources available at the University of Southern California. The Center will award up to 10 fellows every year. Institute fellows, staff and student interns participate in more than a dozen academic events on the USC campus annually. It distinguishes itself by focusing on interdisciplinary study organized around three themes to advance the analysis of genocide and systematic mass violence on an international scale. Resistance to Genocide and Mass Violence focuses on acts of resistance and elements of defiance that slow down or stop genocidal processes. Violence, Emotion and Behavioral Change studies the nature of genocide and mass violence and how they impact emotional, social, psychological, historical and physical behavior.

The Institute, in conjunction with the Center for Advanced Genocide Research, held an international conference in November 2014 at USC titled “Memory, Media and Technology: Exploring the Trajectories of Schindler’s List,” examining the trajectories of memory, media and technology throughout a range of disciplines and from a variety of vantage points and venues. In 2015, the Center for Advanced Genocide Research in collaboration with the Thornton School of Music and USC Visions and Voices hosted the international conference titled "Singing in the Lion's Mouth: Music as Resistance to Violence" which include two days of programming that highlight the use of music as a tool to resist oppression and spread awareness.

Digital Genocide Studies

Digital Genocide Studies examines how big data and large datasets, including the 53,000 testimonies in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, can be used to find patterns in the field of mass violence and its resistance. The Institute also organizes a yearly series of academic events that brings leading scholars to USC to present lectures, film screenings and panel discussions. The Visual History Archive is fully viewable at 51 subscribing institutions in 13 countries around the world, mainly universities and museums. The Institute also offers a subscription for partial access to the Archive. About 211 institutions in 34 countries have contracted for these smaller collections.

About 1,200 testimonies are also available to any member of the public with an Internet connection who registers to access the Visual History Archive Online. The free registration form can be found on the Institute’s website. In addition to broadening its reach, the Institute dedicates considerable attention to maintaining each testimony’s audio-visual quality, to protect it from degrading over time.With contributions from technology companies, the Institute devised a preservation system where the original videos were digitized into a variety of commonly used formats. The digitization of the entire Archive took five years to complete, from 2008 to 2012. During the digitization project, it was discovered that about 5 percent of the 235,005 tapes had audio or visual problems, some to the point of being unwatchable. Finding there were few existing options for restoring tapebased material, the Institute’s ITS team created new software programs to help them recover both audio and visual problems.To ensure that the world’s largest database of genocide testimony lives in perpetuity, the Institute has created a digital collections management technology that is so cutting edge USC now uses it to accommodate a wide array of clients eager to preserve their aging media. Among them are the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and Warner Bros. Pictures. Also under the Access umbrella is the Institute’s collections unit, which works to expand the Visual History Archive by conducting additional interviews, integrating testimony taken by other institutions, and providing training on the Institute’s preferred methodology for gathering testimony.


Using testimony from the Visual History Archive, the Institute develops teaching tools for educators across the disciplinary spectrum, such as social studies, English Language Arts, government, foreign language, world history, American history, and character education. The Institute also provides professional development to prepare educators worldwide to use testimony in relevant and engaging ways—providing an experience that takes students beyond the textbook.

IWitness, the Institute’s flagship educational website for teachers and their students, provides students access to 1,600 testimonies for guided exploration. Students can engage with the testimonies and bring them into their own multimedia projects via a built-in video editor. Approximately 17,000 high school students and over 5,000 educators in 57 countries and all 50 U.S. states have used IWitness. The Institute has trained more than 39,000 educators around the world to incorporate testimony into classroom lessons. More than 200 educators have participated in advanced training and the Teaching with Testimony in the 21st Century programs in the U.S., Ukraine, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.

Student assignments vary by learning activity but include writing short essays, building word clouds, analyzing photos, creating art projects, writing poetry, making sound collages and constructing video essays. The activities go beyond expanding a student’s base of knowledge; they build competencies such as effective searching, archival curation and ethical editing, skills necessary for success in the 21st century. IWitness also has a built-in video editor, enabling students to construct video essays using video clips, photos, music, voiceover narration and text that they have curated.

The Institute’s other education programs include:

  • Teaching with Testimony in the 21st Century – A two-year professional development program to help educators build their capacity to use testimony and digital learning tools such as IWitness appropriately and effectively in their learning environments.
  • ITeach – A one-day seminar that includes an introduction to USC Shoah Foundation’s educational programs, the Visual History Archive, methodology, social psychology and pedagogical theory, and the introduction of a testimony-based lesson a teacher has already developed.
  • IWalk – An interactive education program that connects the Visual History Archive and other primary sources, to physical locations with memories of historical events that took place on these locations in several European cities. IWalks have been created in Budapest, Hungary; Prague in the Czech Republic; and Warsaw, Poland.
  • Teacher Innovation Network – A system created by the Institute to foster collaboration among teachers around the world who have intersected with the Institute’s education programs. Membership is automatic based on educators’ participation in the Institute’s professional-development programs or their registration in IWitness. Monthly e-blasts keep members updated on the activities of the Institute, and invite dialogue among educators.
  • Echoes and Reflections – A Holocaust- focused multimedia professional development program providing secondary teachers in the United States with accurate and authentic Holocaust information for their classrooms. Developed by the USC ShoahFoundation, Yad Vashem, and the Anti- Defamation League, Echoes and Reflections hold workshops around the country at no cost to teachers or schools. Participants receive a complimentary copy of the 10-part Teacher’s Resource Guide.
  • Global access

    Testimony is reaching a broad international audience through the Institute’s Visual History Archive, as well as IWitness, its YouTube channel, and its Web portals in 12 languages. The complete Visual History Archive is available at 49 institutions around the world, while smaller collections are available at 199 sites in 33 countries. The Institute will continue to develop digital technologies to preserve and enhance the Visual History Archive, while building access pathways for a broad audience of students, educators, scholars and the general public. Approximately 1.6 million students, researchers, teachers and laypersons view the testimonies every year. The Visual History Archive Online ( features more than 1,200 testimonies accessible worldwide.

    With an eye toward expanding its audience, USC Shoah Foundation broadcasts its content across many platforms. In 2015, to underscore this priority, the Institute added Global Outreach as its fourth organizational pillar. The progress has been remarkable. In one year — between 2013–14 and 2014–15 — the number of people intersecting with the Institute’s testimony nearly doubled, from 3.6 million to 6.5 million. The number increases to 15 million when including media exposure, TV broadcasts, museum exhibits, presentations at conferences and workshops, and social media. Global outreach is conducted through owned media such as websites and Institute supported documentaries and exhibits; earned media including prominent national and international press coverage about its programs; and shared media distributed across a wide range of social platforms.

  • On a daily basis, the Institute posts stories and blogs about projects and people, as well as a new clip of testimony culled from the Visual History Archive.
  • The Institute boasts a strong following on Facebook and Twitter, and recently launched an Instagram account.
  • In 2014 the Institute initiated a successful social media campaign called #BeginsWithMe to engage with the millennial generation. USC Shoah Foundation and Comcast launched a five-year partnership in 2014 to annually bring programming to millions of customers over the course of seven weeks in the spring commemorating Genocide Awareness Month. Each year, the series is themed with a feature film anchoring the program offerings. The 2015 theme, Music, was anchored by The Pianist and introduced by actor Adrien Brody, who won an Oscar for his role in the film. To expand its reach further and continue placing testimony at the forefront of its global engagement efforts, the Institute seeks to accelerate media production to generate new testimony-based content across multiple channels.
  • Board of Councilors

  • Steven Spielberg, Honorary Chair
  • Edgar M. Bronfman, Honorary Co-chair in Memoriam
  • Renée Crown, Honorary Co-chair
  • Lew Wasserman, Honorary Co-chair in Memoriam
  • Robert Katz, Chair
  • Susan Crown, Vice chair
  • Harry Robinson, Vice chair
  • Wallis Annenberg
  • Russel Bernard
  • Jerome Coben
  • Stephen Cozen
  • David Eisman
  • Phyllis Epstein
  • Anita Friedman
  • Eric Greenberg
  • Yossie Hollander
  • Marcy Gringlas
  • William Lauder
  • Lee Liberman
  • Bruce Ramer
  • Mickey Shapiro
  • Erna Viterbi
  • Gerald Breslauer, Councilor Emeritus
  • Jerome Coben, Councilor Emeritus
  • Emanuel Gerard, Councilor Emeritus
  • Michael Rutman, Councilor Emeritus
  • Founding Executive Directors

  • June Beallor
  • James Moll
  • Founding Advisory Committee

  • Karen Kushell
  • Branko Lustig
  • Gerald R. Molen
  • Executive Staff

  • Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director
  • Kim Simon, Managing Director
  • Wolf Gruner, Director, Center for Advanced Genocide Research
  • Sam Gustman, Chief Technology Officer
  • Karen Jungblut, Director of Research and Documentation
  • Kori Street, Director of Education
  • Ari Zev, Director of Administration
  • Anne Marie Stein, Director of Communications
  • Anita Pace, Director of Technology
  • Andrea Waldron, Executive Director of Development
  • References

    USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education Wikipedia