University of Minnesota Libraries Give Community Access to Archive of Holocaust Survivor and Witness Testimonies

Thu, 02/15/2007 - 12:00am

MINNEAPOLIS, MN–February 15, 2007–University of Minnesota students, faculty, and staff—as well as the general public—will have access to the world’s largest archive of visual histories of the Holocaust this month, when the University Libraries launch a two-terabyte digital media cache of testimonies from the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive.  The University of Minnesota is among six universities worldwide that currently provide access to the entire archive. The archive includes nearly 52,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses, in 32 languages and from 56 countries. The vast majority of the interviews—about 90 percent—are with Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution; however, political prisoners, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, liberators, witnesses, rescuers, and aid providers are also represented in the Archive.

“The oral histories in the Visual History Archive are an invaluable resource for researchers,” said University Librarian Wendy Pradt Lougee. “By studying the firsthand experiences of these survivors, scholars of history, religion, anthropology and many other disciplines can gain the authentic perspective that only primary source material can provide. We are deeply honored that the University of Minnesota is now one of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s partners and can give millions of Minnesotans access to the Archive.” The USC Shoah Foundation Institute grew out of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg, to document the experiences of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. The Institute currently provides licensed access to six universities worldwide. These partners can, in turn, give users access to the entire archive over the high-speed Internet2 research network.

“The Holocaust is one of the most negative events in history,” said Dr. Stephen Feinstein, director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.  “However, thanks to the work of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, survivors and liberators have had their stories recorded and documented in a clear fashion, in many languages. The project offers many new opportunities for research and learning, especially for fields like history, sociology, psychology and foreign languages. This is a unique opportunity for the University of Minnesota to move to the front of Holocaust and genocide studies."

Accessing the Visual History Archive requires users to be physically present on the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. Using a computer connected to the University’s Internet servers, a user can conduct a variety of searches using a hierarchical thesaurus that includes more than 50,000 geographic and experiential keywords, as well as the names of every person mentioned in the testimonies and biographical information for each interviewee. Users can view testimonies already available on the local U. of M. cache, or request that testimonies be uploaded from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s archive.

Users can access the local VHA site at

The mission of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of the Institute's visual history testimonies. The Institute relies upon partnerships in the United States and around the world to provide public access to the archive and advance scholarship in many fields of inquiry. The Institute and its partners also utilize the archive to develop educational products and programs for use in many countries and languages.

The University of Minnesota Libraries provide collections, access and service to students, faculty, researchers, and citizens worldwide. With a collection of over 6.5 million volumes, the University Libraries are a vital component in the education and information infrastructure of the State of Minnesota, and make a fundamental contribution to the University’s excellence in teaching, research, and public outreach.