Blog: Through Testimony

Blog Posts by Stephen Smith

  • April 21, 2017

    At this time of remembrance, I hope I am incorrect in thinking that public awareness of the Shoah is eroding. Information about this act of atrocity is still proliferating, so unawareness clearly cannot be attributed to absent knowledge. There is, in fact, an incredible amount of knowledge … and a growing reluctance to understand it.

  • January 31, 2017
    At a first glance The Yellow Spot: The Extermination of the Jews in Germany is a book about the Holocaust. But in fact, it was published in 1936, after just three years of Nazi rule — and a full five years before the first gas chambers were commissioned for the murder of European Jewry. The authors spend 287 pages detailing a series of laws and actions taken against the Jews. Their conclusion was that the “legal disability” being imposed by the Nazis upon the Jews ultimately would result in their elimination. (Originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.)
  • November 23, 2016

    As fall meets winter, we find ourselves in the seasonal in-between – summer is gone and winter is not yet biting. Yet it is in the in-between that we find moments for appreciation with friends and family. We create these moments in the cycle of the seasons. I think about what it means to live in the in-between – in a place of ambiguity and uncertainty where we must negotiate both the successes and the struggles of daily life. Progress propels us forward, but sometimes it is a roller coaster rather than the smooth gradient we may wish for.

  • November 8, 2016
    The archive was taken in 56 countries, 21 of which were in Central and South American. Ana is just one of the 1,352 who chose Spanish as their language of choice, while another 560 chose to speak Portuguese.
  • November 8, 2016
  • July 12, 2016
    I see two pictures of America. One that is open, free, respectful, fun-loving. The other which is divisive, fearful, angry, and violent. These two Americas have much that sets them apart, but they share missing elements, because neither America is integrated, fair, multicultural, embracing, or color-blind. Not in practice anyhow.
  • May 27, 2016
    The young Nazi approached 13-year-old Szulem Czygielmamn as he walked on the sidewalk of Lubartowska Street in Lublin, Poland, and shoved him off the sidewalk. Szulem was lucky; Jews had died for less.
  • April 22, 2016
    Passover, Bergen-Belsen, 1945. These two thoughts do not belong together: Bergen-Belsen, the epitome of captivity; Passover, the celebration of freedom from slavery.
  • April 1, 2016
    April is Genocide Awareness Month, a time to reflect on atrocities of the past while ensuring that we avoid acts of mass murder in the future. The urgency of this mandate was highlighted just weeks ago when the U.S. House of Representatives and the State Department officially recognized that ISIS is committing genocide in the Middle East.
  • November 16, 2015

    Paris. The way we think of that beautiful city has changed. That's what they want. They want us to think about things differently, to use Paris as a symbol of bloodshed and fear, not the one we know and love of liberty and culture. That is the nature of extremism: It tries to change who we are, how we see the world, to change our habits and our patterns of thought, to enjoy our freedoms less, to exert control.

  • September 24, 2015
    We have ample historical evidence that hateful words can be as dangerous as physical violence itself. German poet, Heinrich Heine said in 1821, “He who burns books will soon burn people.”
  • July 14, 2015

    I first met Sir Nicholas Winton when he had reached the mere age of 87.  He was curious to learn about the UK Holocaust Centre, which our family had opened in Nottinghamshire.  Winton was intrigued to learn that a non-Jewish family established the center, which resonated with his own ethics, as a Holocaust rescuer who saved 669 Jewish children by organizing the Czechoslovakian Kindertransport.

  • April 28, 2015

    Thousands of people came to Times Square on Sunday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and to demand the U.S. government recognize the slaughter of 1.5 million people as genocide.

    In a speech at the event, USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith said that the world must stand together speak for those who are not here to speak for themselves.

  • April 15, 2015

    Music is the purest form of communication. It transcends language and ignores the passage of time. It can be euphoric and elegiac, subtle and sublime. It joyously welcomes life and mournfully greets death. It can provide glimmers of hope and comfort in a world devoid of hope and comfort.

  • March 18, 2015

    What does it mean to live 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz in a world in deep crisis? What does it mean with all we know about the damage that hatred causes – after all the pain we have gone through – that we are hurtling out of control into an inferno of rage that takes us right back to where we started?  Why are survivors of the Holocaust who walked out of the camps with at least the hope that their own suffering was not in vain, dying disappointed?

  • March 5, 2015
    We are hiding from the fact that subsequent to Haman, Hitler was successful in carrying out the genocide of the Jews and the survivors of the Holocaust are better examples than Mordechai or Esther.
  • February 25, 2015

    Auschwitz, the final destination of Jewish people from across Europe destined to be murdered as a part of the Nazi genocide of the Jews.

    Auschwitz, a place that housed prisoners of many religions, persuasions, minorities and nationalities, but whose evil reputation is seared onto our collective conscience because the five gas chambers at Birkenau were there for one reason only - to devour the lives of 960,000 Jews.

    Auschwitz, which has evolved into a universal symbol of man's inhumanity to man – and indeed it does remind us just how cruel human beings can be.

  • January 27, 2015

    Auschwitz was one of five death camps established by the Nazis in Poland where Jews were taken to be murdered during the so-called “Final Solution,” a euphemism for the their genocide. We know it through the horrific photos of trains filled with Jews, of men being split from women, parents from children, of the uniformed Nazi wagging his finger, and of the brick chimneys billowing smoke. But there is a much more intimate story still to be heard.

  • January 21, 2015

    Anita Lasker-Wallfisch had a lucky moment while being processed at the Sauna in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  One of the girls processing her asked her what she did prior to landing in that place of unspeakable horror. “I played the cello,” she answered. That surreal conversation, not far from the gas chambers at Birkenau, would save her life.  As a member of the Auschwitz women's orchestra, playing the cello meant respite from heavy labor.  

  • January 19, 2015

    Auschwitz should never have existed, so why are we so keen to cling onto it? Would it not be reasonable to scrub it from the landscape, remove the very thought of what it represents from our minds, recognize it as the cemetery it is, then grass it over and leave the dead to rest in peace?  

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Posts are contributed by individual authors. The opinions are solely the authors’ and are not necessarily a reflection of the views of USC Shoah Foundation.

About Stephen Smith

Fri, 11/08/2013 - 2:43pm -- webmaster

Stephen D Smith is the Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Executive Director Chair of the USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, whose Visual History Archive holds 53,000 testimonies of eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides. He also holds the UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education and is an Adjunct Professor of Religion. He founded the UK Holocaust Centre, The Aegis Trust for the prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He was Project Director of the Kigali Genocide Centre, Rwanda. Smith, who trained as a Christian theologian, is an author, educator and researcher interested in memory of the Holocaust, and the causes and consequences of human conflict. Views expressed in this blog are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of USC Shoah Foundation.

Other Contributors

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Ivana Hajičová
Orli Robin