A Lasting Legacy Through Testimony

Thu, 12/15/2016 - 5:00pm

By Zach Larkin

USC Shoah Foundation Intern, USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Bachelor of Arts in History, Class of 2017

Just a few weeks after my Bar Mitzvah, I asked my great-grandfather Tony if he would tell me about his experience in the Holocaust. After a lifetime of silence on the matter, he finally agreed.

Over the course of an afternoon, my life permanently changed. My great-grandfather spoke of losing most of his family, joining an underground resistance movement in Budapest and rescuing the love of his life, my great-grandmother Susan. When he passed away months later, I feared that, in spite of our connection, I had forever lost the opportunity to better understand his experience and the story of my family’s survival.

As a history student at the University of Southern California, I never expected my family's story to come up in class. And yet, thanks to Dr. Wolf Gruner, director of USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research, I learned about the Visual History Archive. With Dr. Gruner’s support, I discovered how to search through 54,000 audiovisual testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. In the process, I found testimonies referencing the events and stories my great-grandfather shared with me, including some that mentioned him by name!

Inspired by this experience, I adopted the Visual History Archive as a primary resource in my history coursework. Under Dr. Gruner’s guidance, I am currently writing my senior honors thesis on uncovering the forgotten past of the resistance movement to which my great-grandfather belonged. My research led me to Budapest, which influenced not only my thesis, but also my understanding of contemporary Antisemitism and xenophobia in Europe.

Through the power of testimony, USC Shoah Foundation empowers me to better understand my identity and my heritage. This understanding inspires many of my current and future academic and professional goals.

Today, you have the opportunity to shape the lives of students and scholars like me by making a donation to USC Shoah Foundation. Your contribution to the USC Shoah Foundation Annual Fund will support programs such as the Center for Advanced Genocide Research, which uses testimony to advance the study of genocide and resistance.

The Center’s research fellowships for college students, postdoctoral scholars and professors are generating new research on topics including Jewish life in East Germany, silence in testimony and Cambodian religious rituals, to name a few. The Center also hosts academic conferences that attract scholars from around the world, including the first-ever international conference on the Guatemalan Genocide in September 2016.

USC Shoah Foundation’s commitment to testimony is inspiring the next generation to understand and protect the vital lessons of the past. Together, we hope to draw from the strength, compassion and wisdom of survivors to build a better future and civil society.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for believing in the power of testimony.