Institute News

USC Shoah Foundation’s Work Robust in Czech Republic

Twenty years since its founding, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains a vibrant presence in the Czech Republic to educate the next generation about genocide and tolerance through the use of its Holocaust survivor testimonies.

Out of the Visual History Archive’s 52,000 testimonies, over 4,500 testimonies were given by Holocaust survivors and witnesses born in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Kingdom of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and 558 were conducted in the Czech language.

The Malach Center for Visual History at Charles University and the Prague Jewish Museum have full access to the Visual History Archive.

For the past two years the USC Shoah Foundation has brought its flagship professional development initiative, Teaching with Testimony in the 21st Century, to the Czech Republic. It is a two-year program that incorporates workshops, mentoring, and community building to prepare educators to search for and utilize testimony in the Visual History Archive and digital learning tools such as the Institute’s online education website IWitness. Participants, who are selected from applicants nationwide, engage deeply in the theory and practice of using testimony to achieve significant student learning. So far, the participants have created over two dozen testimony-based lessons covering topics from Czech literature to modern racism.

“Listening to the testimonies and then walking through the Prague streets where the concentration camp described in them was located was the strongest experience I felt in years. I will surely try to transfer that understanding of spatial context of history to my students,” said Julie Jensovska, who participated in the program in 2012.

In addition, every year USC Shoah Foundation participates in over a half-dozen educational lectures, workshops and presentations around the country, and maintains a Czech-language portal on its website http://sfi.usc.edu/international/czech.

As further testament to the close ties the USC Shoah Foundation has with the Czech Republic, its Chief Technology Officer Sam Gustman is visiting Charles University this month as he serves on the board of the university’s Lindat Clarin project, which aims to create a Human Language digital repository similar to the Visual History Archive. Gustman, who has been with the Shoah Foundation since its founding, holds 11 patents on the digital collection management techniques he developed for the Institute, which allows users to search the entire Visual History Archive to specific minutes of testimony by using some of the archive’s 62,000 embedded keywords. -

USC Shoah Foundation also partners with other Czech organizations to provide access to testimony and produce educational materials. Modern-History.eu, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes’s exhibition about Czechoslovak Jews in the Gulag, plus regional Jewish museums in Jicin, Plzen, Boskovice and Brandys nad Labem all feature testimony from the Visual History Archive.

Thirty-three clips from testimonies of Czech Holocaust survivors from the Visual History Archive are also included in the educational resources created by the Jewish Museum in Prague’s Ours or Foreign? project. Ours or Foreign? teaches students about the lives of minorities, attitudes towards refugees , self-identity and prejudice against the backdrop of the 20th century.

“Reflecting on the history of 20th century as narrated by testimonies from the Visual History Archive not only leads to deeper understanding of historical events and human behavior under extreme circumstances, it also makes the public think more about their role in the world, about more responsible citizenship - or more responsible humanity,” said Martin Šmok, Senior International Program Consultant and the organization’s representative in the Czech Republic. “Twenty years since Shoah Foundation representatives first visited Prague, our educational work here is in full swing.”

For more information, please visit:

USC Shoah Foundation Czech Portal: https://sfi.usc.edu/international/czech

IWitness: http://iwitness.usc.edu

Ours or Foreign? Jews in the Czech 20th Century: http://nasinebocizi.cz/Lindat Clarin: http://lindat.mff.cuni.cz/lindat/