Library to offer access to massive archive of Holocaust testimonies

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McMaster University has become the first Canadian institution to offer full access to videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses, nearly 52,000 in all, contained in one of the largest archives of its kind.

Recorded in 56 countries and in 32 languages-mostly between 1994 and 1999-the interviews are contained in the USC Shoah Foundation Institute's Visual History Archive, which can be accessed either remotely or on campus through secure access to McMaster University Library.

The USC Shoah Foundation was established in 1994 by director Steven Spielberg to collect and preserve the testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust.

There are accounts from Jewish Holocaust survivors, homosexual survivors, Jehovah's Witness survivors, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, Sinti and Roma survivors, survivors of Eugenics policies and war crimes trials participants.

Nearly three thousand survivors were interviewed in Canada, with 34 interviews conducted in Hamilton.

"The testimonies will serve as a remarkable research tool for our students, faculty and the much wider community," said University librarian Jeff Trzeciak. "This tremendously rich archive can and will be used across all disciplines at the University, providing scholars with tremendous insight on the Holocaust."

A special launch event is to be held on campus Thursday evening, 7 p.m. at CIBC Centre, with keynote speaker Branko Lustig, the Oscar-winning producer of Schindler's List and one of the founding figures of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute. His own testimony is preserved in the Institute's archive.

In each testimony, a survivor speaks of life experiences before, during and after the war. Many show photographs, documents and artifacts or introduce family members and friends on camera. Approximately 150 of the interviews feature walking tours, some conducted at former concentration camps, ghettos, mass graves or in front of a former family home.

"Nearly 52,000 survivors and witnesses have shared their voices, shared their messages with the world," USC Shoah Foundation Institute Executive Director Stephen D. Smith said. "They are eyewitnesses who have testified about what they saw and experienced during the Holocaust and across their lives. Their testimony is allowing historians to enter the past as never before, and scholars of wide-ranging disciplines are finding the archive to be of utmost value to their research. The Institute commends McMaster University for making such learning opportunities possible in Canada."

"These unique holdings are a mosaic of experiences that not only speak to the Holocaust in terms of a historical past, but also inform our current and future social and moral obligations," said Noah Shenker, an expert in Holocaust testimony and post doctoral fellow in the Faculty of Humanities and McMaster University Library. "This has a tremendous influence on how we document and respond to other genocides, including those in Armenia, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Darfur."

Acquiring the archive is part of a commitment by the University to collect primary sources from the Holocaust, he said, such as the development of the Madeleine and Monte Levy Virtual Museum of the Holocaust and the Resistance.

by Michelle Donovan

For photos of the launch event see the Library's flickr stream.