Impact in Profile: Rosalie Franks

Impact in Profile: Rosalie Franks

Rosalie Franks first heard about Steven Spielberg’s foundation for interviewing Holocaust survivors from an article in the Palm Beach Post in the spring of 1994.

Nearly twenty years later, she says that article has transformed her life.

Franks, a former fourth grade teacher and television reporter, is a professor at Rhode Island’s Roger Williams University. After reading that article in the Palm Beach Post, she applied to be an interviewer and attended a training in New York that November.

Between 1994 and 1999, Franks estimates that she interviewed 92 Holocaust survivors and witnesses in the United States and Scotland. Her interviewees included two founders of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, David Chase and Simon Konover; Edward Novakoff, an American soldier who guarded defendants at the Nuremberg Trials; Erich Leyden, a friend of Anne Frank’s father Otto; and Joseph Singer, a survivor of the failed St. Louis refugee voyage.

These interviews are digitized and preserved in USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive alongside nearly 52,000 other testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides.

Franks said she became friends with many of her interviewees and has stayed in touch with them over the years. She felt it was a “mitzvah” and a blessing that she was chosen to be an interviewer.

“I grew as a person because of my relationship with survivors. They taught me about courage, resilience, and perseverance,” Franks said.  “They showed me the critical need to go on in the face of what appears to be imminent defeat.  They taught me about the importance of family, faith, and friendship.  And they made me proud to be Jewish.”

Her involvement with the Shoah Foundation inspired Franks to visit concentration camps across Europe, present papers about her research with survivors and receive training in teaching about the Holocaust.

She also began bringing the lessons of the survivors into her classroom. She created a new course at Roger Williams University called Building Community and Choosing to do Good: Why Studying Critical Writing, Ethics, Racism, and the Holocaust Matters. The course teaches students about living ethically, respecting others and being part of a community through books and essays about the Holocaust, documentaries and oral histories.

Both the critical writing course and Franks’ freshman literature and philosophy course utilize IWitness, USC Shoah Foundation’s educational website that allows students to watch testimony from the Visual History Archive, create their own video projects and complete activities. Franks assigns her students to create their own video interviews, either with themselves or someone they know, inspired by the testimony of Joseph Singer and other survivors, examining what it means to be guided by a sense of values and ethics.

Franks said IWitness gives her students the confidence to use video editing software and get creative with their video projects. The experience of watching testimony allows them to grow and think more deeply about the meaning of their lives while connecting history to current events.

The mission of USC Shoah Foundation is “essential” to young people, Franks said, so they may learn about the dangers of indifference and the need to respect diversity.

“It provides a welcoming beacon to teachers and students who want to shed light on what happened during the Shoah so that it will never happen to anyone anywhere again,” Franks said.

But USC Shoah Foundation has affected Franks herself just as much as the students in her classes.

“Simply put, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation transformed my personal and professional life,” Franks added. “I am a better person and teacher because of my involvement with the Institute.”