USC Shoah Foundation Institute Begins Massive, State of the Art Preservation Effort to Save One of World’s Largest Video Archive

Fri, 08/15/2008 - 12:00am

The preservation of one of the largest digital video archives in the world got underway this fall at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, where staff began converting more than 100,000 hours of videotaped Holocaust testimonials to a new digital format.

The Foundation, originally established by filmmaker and USC Trustee Steven Spielberg, moved to the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 2006.  Spielberg was motivated to a great extent by a desire to guarantee the survival of the project he started.

“Preservation of these priceless interviews is the Shoah Foundation’s highest priority,” he said at the time.  (

“These are the master copies,” said Sam Gustman, Chief Technology Officer for the Institute.  “Losing the tapes means losing the testimonies of nearly 52,000 individuals who witnessed the Holocaust.  Something must be done to preserve them, and USC is taking action.”

Over the next 5 years, 235,000 videotapes stored in a mountain in the eastern United States will make a cross-country journey by truck to the University of Southern California, 15,000 at a time.  The tapes will be transported to USC because they are deteriorating—as does all videotape—and will ultimately become unusable.

The project will store the interviews in a cutting edge electronic format called Motion JPEG 2000 (MJPEG2K).  MJPEG2K is starting to be used by large archives to store their moving image content.  The Library of Congress has standardized on this format at the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation.  The USC Shoah Foundation Institute will be one of the largest early adopters of this technology.  To help with this effort, Sun Microsystems has donated over $2 million in storage hardware and servers.

The project also will create separate digital files for playback on all types of commercial video players, enabling easy access to the archive by future students and researchers.

Currently, full online access to the archive is available onsite at USC and 16 other institutions around the world, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  As part of its future goals, the institute plans to make 1,000 interviews available on its web site.

The Institute views the project as an interim step toward the final goal of storing the massive files on hard drives at multiple research institutions.

“By the time the content is ready to be copied and stored at other sites, hard disk-based arrays will be much more affordable,” Gustman said.

Established in 1994 to collect and preserve the testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world:  nearly 52,000 video testimonies in 32 languages and from 56 countries.  The Institute is part of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California; its mission 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 works within the University and with partners around the world to advance scholarship and research, to provide resources and online tools for educators, and to disseminate the testimonies in its archive for educational purposes . In addition to preserving the testimonies, the Institute helps document the stories of survivors and other witnesses of other genocides. Currently, the Institute is working with the Rwandan organization IBUKA to begin a project to collect testimony from survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that claimed as many as one million lives.  Once collected and indexed, the testimony will be incorporated into the Visual History Archive.

Learn more about the Institute's preservation effort.

For more information, visit the Institute’s website,, or contact:

Talia Cohen
University of Southern California
(213) 740-6036