Throughout the nearly 150 interviews she conducted of Holocaust survivors for USC Shoah Foundation, Nancy Fisher’s philosophy was simple: “I did my best to be a human being connecting with another human being.”
Behind this simple philosophy, however, was years of work; Fisher honed her interviewing skills and her understanding of the subject matter through constant self-education. Fisher came to the Institute in 1995, after reading a New York Times article about founder Steven Spielberg’s efforts to collect Holocaust testimony. Despite knowing little at the time about the Holocaust or interviewing itself, Fisher was undeterred: “If you really want to go after something, you go after it.” She offered to volunteer at the Institute office in New York, sorting completed interview tapes in preparation for digitizing and cataloguing, until she could receive interviewer training.
In addition to formal training, Fisher set herself on a quest to ensure she was prepared for her interviews—watching other Institute interviews to pick up tips, seeking book recommendations to further her understanding of the Holocaust, even auditing a college course—and never stopped learning. Though a Reform Jew herself, Fisher admits there was much about Judaism she needed to learn: “These interviews took me all over Europe, and all over different aspects of Jewish observance, left, right, and center. It was a phenomenal learning experience.” The role was a chance to better herself and the world around her. “The experience was a gift, an opportunity that was awarded to me.”
Fisher recently gave the Institute a gift of her own in the form of a contribution to USC Shoah Foundation’s Last Chance Testimony Fund, which supports the Institute’s capacity to collect the remaining testimonies of Holocaust witnesses before it is too late. With well over 300 individuals waiting to be interviewed, most of them in their 90s, it is vital that the Institute moves as quickly as possible to secure the testimony of those whose stories may otherwise be lost.
Fisher, who has kept in close contact with many of her interview subjects over the years, has seen firsthand the effect that sharing testimony could have on survivors. Some subjects, who had refused to share their stories for decades, found a newfound freedom in the telling, as they no longer had to carry the memories alone. “No one ever said that they were sorry they had given the interview,” Fisher said. “No one ever said they were sorry I’d come.”
When presented the opportunity to support the Last Chance Testimony Fund and ensure that one more survivor had that same opportunity to share his or her story, Fisher jumped at it: “It was an easy gift for me to give.” In doing so, Fisher hopes to help further the Institute’s mission of education—not just for what those who view the testimonies can learn about the Holocaust, but for what survivors can learn about themselves. Ultimately, Fisher credits USC Shoah Foundation for giving survivors “a voice, an identity. As much as those interviews will be used for Holocaust education, the truest gift the Institute gave to the survivors is the opportunity to speak.”