Linda and Jim Wimmer
Like many who support USC Shoah Foundation, Linda Wimmer was drawn to the stories of survivors and the way the Institute gives their stories both a home and a platform from which to be shared. However, her connection to the Institute is more profound than passive appreciation. In 1995, Linda’s husband Jim shared with her an article in their local Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper discussing Steven Spielberg’s mission to collect testimony of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. Linda immediately knew that she wanted to participate. She applied and was hired as an interviewer, one of the vital contributors whose work creates compelling and engaging testimony.
During her interviewer training, Linda was “touched by the sensitivity and commitment to make the interview process as successful and helpful as it could be.” The experience allowed her to see the depths of empathy required to help subjects navigate the difficult or traumatic events of the past. One particular interview subject stuck in her memory: a Holocaust survivor who had never told his story before, to neither family nor friends. “He had carried this silence with him for decades,” Linda explained. He seemed so uncomfortable with the idea of the interview that Linda took him out to lunch beforehand, creating an informal, comfortable connection: just two people talking about their lives. According to Linda, after he shared his story, “it was like a catharsis.” He began recounting his experience to everyone, no longer burdened by the silence.
Once she began conducting interviews, Linda and her husband Jim made steady financial contributions to the Institute, enabling other survivors to share their stories, much like those whom she interviewed. “If you believe in something and you want it to succeed, you have an obligation to help,” Linda said.
This sense of obligation was rekindled by the Wimmers’ recent visit to the Institute’s new headquarters on the fourth floor of Leavey Library, where they were impressed with the youth, energy and dedication of Institute staff. Perhaps not surprisingly, she was especially drawn to the Dimensions in Testimony exhibit featuring Pinchas Gutter. The back and forth she experienced with the interactive projection reminded her of the interviews she gave decades before: “There was a profound sense of personal connection,” she said. “This connection provides viewers with a real sense of humanity far more powerful than mere numbers or statistics on the Holocaust.
“Throughout my many years as a ‘professional volunteer’ for a variety of organizations, I still consider my time as a Shoah Foundation interviewer my most significant volunteer experience.” This experience has continued to inspire Linda and Jim’s philanthropic generosity. “Out of gratitude, we want to enable the Shoah Foundation to continue to influence the lives of others in the most meaningful way.”