Archival Access at Charles University Brings Testimonies to Czech Republic

Thu, 01/28/2010 - 12:00am
Malach Visual History Center to provide local access to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive.

Charles University in Prague to provide access to the archive of the Shoah Foundation Institute at the University of Southern California

View photos from the Festive Opening of the Malach Center, Prague, January 29, 2010

Watch TV Nova's Czech-language news story about the launch of the archive at Charles University

Read Czech press release

Read an article published in the UNIVERZITA KARLOVA V PRAZE iFORUM

The Malach Visual History Center, a mutual project of the Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics and the Library of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the Charles University, will provide local access to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive containing almost 52,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses, recorded in 56 countries and in 32 languages.  The archive is accessible through an online interface, which allows users to search for and view testimonies of interest by using more than 55,000 keywords.

“The examination of eyewitness testimony is bringing new dimensions to the historical record of the Holocaust and its meaning for every generation,” said Stephen Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.  “The video interviews preserved in the Visual History Archive are vividly detailed, emotionally charged narratives that bring the past to life and convey vital lessons for humanity.  The Institute has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Charles University through the MALACH project, and we look forward with great optimism to the opportunities for education and scholarship which will arise now that the archive is accessible on the Charles campus.”

“The Malach Visual History Center is a unique project.  I am sure that it will become a major asset not only for our students and the whole academic community of Charles University, but also for high school teachers and students, as well as for the general public interested in the topic of the Holocaust,” said the Charles University Rector, Václav Hampl.  “Access to the archive will also support international cooperation and information exchange in the field of social sciences.  Thanks to the crucial role of sophisticated digital technology, this project is also very valuable for the close cooperation it will bring between disciplines traditionally classified into social sciences and exact sciences.  Without a doubt, the opening of the Center is further proof that Charles University is aware of dangers of extremism, and the need to commemorate and, for the sake of prevention, analyze the causes and horrendous outcomes of intolerance, racism, and ideologies based on hatred.”

The Visual History Archive, at eight petabytes in size, is one of the largest digital libraries in the world and a resource with tremendous breadth and depth for teaching and scholarship.  The archive contains 105,000 hours of footage—nearly 52,000 video testimonies of Jewish survivors, homosexual survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, survivors of Eugenics policies, and war crimes trials participants.  

Each interview consists of descriptions of events before, during, and after the war, and contains images of documents, photographs, and other artifacts provided by the interviewee.  The average length of an interview is two hours.  “Besides covering the personal histories of people labeled as Jews by the Nazis, the archive actually captures the history of the 20th century as seen by those who lived it—with all its wars, totalitarian regimes, waves of emigration, persecutions, and trauma—but also the persistent hope that one day people will learn from the past," said Martin Šmok, the Institute’s Senior International Program Consultant, based in Prague.

The Malach Visual History Center at the Charles University is currently one of three access points to the archive in Europe (together with Freie Universität in Berlin and Central European University in Budapest), and it will focus not only on humanities research and education, but also on research in computational linguistics and speech processing.  “The name of the Center actually comes from a successful National Science Foundation-funded research project in speech recognition and multilingual information retrieval, carried out between 2002-2007 in cooperation with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and several other academic institutions, including the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň and the Charles University in Prague," says Jan Hajič, head of the Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics (

The Malach Visual History Center is located in the library of the Computer Science School at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the Charles University in Prague, in the historical city center.

About Charles University

Charles University, founded in 1348, is one of the oldest universities in the world.  At the present time it contains 17 faculties (14 in Prague, 2 in Hradec Králové, and 1 in Plzeň), 3 collegiate institutes, 6 additional establishments for educational, scientific, research and developmental activities and other creative activities, and for information service, 5 university-wide facilities and the rector´s office as an executive establishment for Charles University management.  Charles University is among the 2% top universities worldwide, and is among the 100 best European universities.  As the only Czech university, it was ranked among the top 500 by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the so-called Shanghai list.

There are more than 7,500 University employees, 4,000 of them are academic and research workers.  Over 51,000 students study at Charles University (approximately 1/6th of all the students in the Czech Republic) in more than 300 accredited academic programs with 660 study departments.  Over 18,000 students are studying for bachelor´s degrees, 25,000 students are studying for master´s degrees, and over 7,000 students are in PhD programs.  There are more than 6,000 foreign students.  Every year, more than 15,000 participants graduate from various courses of lifelong education.  The University places fundamental emphasis on international cooperation with prestigious educational and scientific institutions.  Thus, Charles University has entered into 450 bilateral contracts and 190 international partnerships with foreign universities.

About the USC Shoah Foundation Institute and the Visual History Archive

Founded by Steven Spielberg after he completed the film Schindler's List in 1994, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute was established to collect and preserve the testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust.  Today, the Institute is part of the College of Letters, Arts & 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 the archive for educational purposes.  In addition to preserving the testimonies in its archive, the Institute is working with partner organizations to help document the stories of survivors and other witnesses of other genocides.

Currently, the entire archive is available (searchable and viewable) at 25 institutions in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. The archive is digitized, fully searchable, and hyperlinked to the minute, allowing students, professors, researchers, and members of the public to retrieve both whole testimonies, as well as specific moments within testimonies that relate to their area of interest.

USC Shoah Foundation Institute in the Czech Republic

Between 1994 and 1997, 566 witness interviews were filmed in the Czech Republic.  Another 656 interviews were collected in Slovakia.  There are 4,557 interviews in the archive with survivors who listed Czechoslovakia as their country of birth.  In an effort to make the Czech language interview material available to educators in the Czech Republic, several lessons were created within the framework of the International Visual History Program, which can be found on the Institute’s Czech-language web portal.  The Lesson titled When Racism is the Law looks into the effects of the so-called Nuremberg laws on the Czech population.  A series of 12 classroom lessons created in partnership with the Terezín memorial, The Terezín Ghetto, the Holocaust, and the Present, examines not only the ghetto history, but also several phenomena of human behavior.  Several Czech interview clips were also made available to the educators via the digital resource repository of the Rámcový vzdělávací program (RVP) portal, and similar cooperation is planned with another digital portal providing educators with primary source materials, Modern  The Institute also plans to hold seminars for educators, utilizing the real time access to the Visual History Archive at the Malach Center.

About the Educational Use of the Testimonies

The content of the archive and its sophisticated search interface make it a valuable educational tool in a variety of disciplines.  History is only one of many subject areas in which the archive is being used.  Over the past 5 years, some 137 university courses using the archive have been taught in anthropology, art history, business ethics, English literature, film studies, French, German studies, Jewish studies, Latin American studies, law, linguistics, philosophy, political science, religious studies, Slavic studies, sociology, and women's studies.

The Institute’s work in many countries has shown that the medium of audiovisual testimony provides educators with a resource that can help augment, deepen, and personalize history.  The Institute has a variety of partnerships with governmental and non-governmental entities in the U.S. and in countries throughout Europe to develop educational programs and curricular materials for use in secondary education.  The testimonies have been integrated into secondary lessons and curricula across a wide disciplinary spectrum including history, social studies, civics, literature, language arts, religious studies, and philosophy, as well as dedicated elective courses in secondary education focused on the Holocaust.  In addition to this broad range of subject areas, our partners have also been able to explore skills-based curricula because of the audiovisual nature of the medium, which includes building critical thinking skills, visual literacy skills, and engaging in single and comparative source analysis.