David Zaslav

Education and Empathy

“Stories have the power to educate, change people’s world view, and inspire empathy,” says David Zaslav, a member of USC Shoah Foundation’s Executive Committee and the president and CEO of Discovery Communications. “It’s a kind of understanding that can’t be replicated by history books.”

Zaslav helped facilitate powerful visual storytelling experiences, in which history came alive, when he served as chair of the committee for Auschwitz: The Past is Present.

In partnership with Discovery Education, this program reached thousands of teachers and brought 25 educators from around the world to participate in a four-day professional development event in Warsaw, Krakow, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Members of the Auschwitz: The Past is Present committee also worked in collaboration with the World Jewish Congress to gather 100 Auschwitz survivors as honored guests at a 70th anniversary commemoration.

“By bringing survivors and educators together on this mission, we seized an important opportunity — a chance for what will likely be the last living group of Holocaust witnesses to share their stories with the men and women who will bring these lessons to the next generation,” says Zaslav, noting how impressive and moving the experience was for all participants. “The stories of those survivors I met are sealed in my memory.”

Growing up, Zaslav heard accounts of oppression and escape from family members who left Warsaw and Odessa for the United States just before World War II. “It’s their story — rooted in gratitude for the full lives they had the opportunity to live — that built the foundation of my childhood and that still inspires me to this day to support organizations like USC Shoah Foundation,” he says.

Zaslav’s hope is that by exposing current and subsequent generations to visual testimonials detailing the horrors that can grow out of intolerance, USC Shoah Foundation is preserving the past to protect the future.

“I can’t think of a more worthy cause, and I am privileged to be a part of it,” he says.