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Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Welcome to Through Testimony, the official blog of USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Mohammed Dajani teaches about the Holocaust to Palestinians although he insists it is impossible to do so. “In my class is a girl who was recently released from an Israeli jail. When I raised the subject of the Holocaust in class all she could say was, ‘I am still dealing with my own traumatic experiences, I am nowhere near ready to learn about this!’” Dajani is unflustered by such push back.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Steven Spielberg was awarded this year's Records of Achievement Award by the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Shortly after I saw Schindler’s List for the first time, I had an argument with my father about the value of such Hollywood blockbusters for teaching people about the Holocaust. We debated the following question: If Schindler’s List was the only source of information for people about the Holocaust would it perhaps be better if they did not see it at all? That is, is Schindler’s List better than nothing if what it shows is all you know about what happened to nearly six million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe? My dad said (or shouted) yes, but I was unconvinced.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Let's just say I throw my smartphone over the wall into the Warsaw ghetto. Along with it, I send instructions to make a video diary until the battery drains, then to wrap it in lots of newspaper before throwing it back.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Sid Shachnow has two Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts -- and that's just for his service in Vietnam, where he led his troops with courage and distinction. “There was no room for conscience,” he confides when discussing his 39 years of military service. “Once I was face to face with a Viet Cong. I had him in my sights as he ran toward me. He dropped his weapon and veered left. I did not pull the trigger. I still do not know if I did the right thing. My conscience got in the way.”
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Growing up, it wasn’t terribly unusual to see people in our house with telltale tattoos on their arms. We kids somehow knew what those blurry inked numbers meant, but we also knew it wasn’t polite to ask about them. And so, I never did. And honestly, no one in my family had been so marked — the people with tattoos were mostly friends of my grandparents — so it wasn’t something I had a lot of interest in hearing about. And perhaps in an effort to protect our innocence, family elders showed no interest in talking about it.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
“Time heals all wounds,” they say.It’s difficult to find any other element in our daily lives that possesses the sobering effect that time does. It tames emotions and calms nerves. It allows for much needed reflection and analysis. And, perhaps most importantly, it brings with it resolution and closure. By any account, a century would be more than enough time to heal even the deepest wound, but, surprisingly, time’s impact isn’t always as thorough as we’d expect it to be.
Friday, December 13, 2013
As I write this, I am standing alongside 30 of the last 200 survivors of the Nanjing Massacre, which began 76 years ago Friday. Sirens sound around this Chinese city as the last few eyewitnesses of a massacre gather. Starting Dec. 13, 1937, and lasting six weeks, as many as 300,000 civilians were murdered during the atrocities.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
When I tell my fellow USC students that I’m the president of an organization called SFISA, it’s usually safe to assume that 90% of them have no idea what it is. It’s not the most elegant of acronyms and we acknowledge this. Our club’s full name – the Shoah Foundation Institute Student Association – is equally as unwieldy but at least it’s descriptive, and that’s something, right? But even if they’ve heard of our less than stellar name, they still might not know who we are or what we do. So let me take this moment to enlighten you.
Friday, December 20, 2013
Benjamin Murmelstein was the first person Claude Lanzmann interviewed on his epic journey that led to what eventually became his definitive film, “Shoah.” Lanzmann sat for a full week with the only living former Alteste Der Judenrat (a term used to describe the head of a ghetto Judenrat) and penetrated deep in to the moral labyrinth of Murmelstein's world.
Monday, December 23, 2013
The Cold War began its thaw 25 years ago, then apparently melted sufficiently for us to get on with our lives without fear. Surprisingly, the slow thaw is still in progress.
Monday, January 13, 2014
The email wasn’t so different from many others I’ve received since I started working at the USC Shoah Foundation last summer.A woman named Olga in Germany was moved by watching survivor Paula Lebovics talk about her stolen childhood during the Holocaust. Olga had a young daughter of her own and felt an immediate bond with Paula, who was taken to Auschwitz when she was the same age. And so she wanted to contact her.
Friday, January 24, 2014
The word journey comes to the English language from the Old French jornee, meaning a day, or, by extension, a day’s labor or travel.  This word, which we normally associate with something pleasant, takes on a different meaning when placed in conversation with the word Holocaust. This was the challenge placed in front of me by colleagues at UNESCO, when they requested that the USC Shoah Foundation prepare an exhibition for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27 – the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
Monday, January 27, 2014
The recent New York Times article, The Shroud over Rwanda's Nightmare (January 9, 2014), had me perplexed at first. Michael Dobbs' enquiry centers on the character of Jean-Pierre, the informant who tipped off United Nations head of mission General Romeo Dallaire about preparations for widespread killing of civilians in Rwanda 1994 as evidenced by the training of the Interhamwe militia, the presence of arms caches and the purchase of large numbers of machetes.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
I first learned about Helena Horowitz’s life history when I found her testimony as I searched through the archive in IWitness the Institute’s educational website featuring the testimonies of survivors and other witnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides.
Monday, February 10, 2014
I did not sleep well last night. It was not the kind of sleeplessness brought on by jet lag, stress or workload. It is best described as a kind of numbness that leaves one physically discharged, emotionally drained and deeply troubled. I just completed one the most sedentary days I’ve had in months, just sitting in a chair listening to one of the most intelligent, sophisticated, gentle, yet strong people I know tell me about his life.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The other morning I checked the BBC News website like I always do only to discover that French film director Alain Resnais had passed away at the age of ninety-one. Resnais’s films frequently explored the relationship between memory, consciousness, and the imagination in a non-linear manner and his innovative method of filmmaking won him numerous awards and prestige throughout his prolific career.
Monday, March 17, 2014
Over the last six weeks, I have had the unique opportunity to be the Senior Fellow at USC Shoah Foundation - The Institute for Visual History and Education. It’s been an honor for me to be here, especially since I led the Institute between 2000 and 2008. Returning to this remarkable place, having the opportunity to use the Visual History Archive, and working among dear former colleagues and new friends has been simply thrilling.
Monday, March 24, 2014
On the day the Visual History Archive access site in Prague - the Malach Center for Visual History - was inaugurated I decided that my school, Archbishop High School in Prague, could not ignore it. However, I was not able to think of a way how to organically incorporate it in teaching English, which is my job. My chance came only recently.
Friday, March 28, 2014
Pinchas Gutter sits in a red chair surrounded by bright green fabric under the glare of several thousand LED lights, 53 cameras capturing his every move. This is the world's first ever full-life history captured in true 3-D. As I interview him, I perch on a stool 8 feet away at 90 degrees to Pinchas. We can see each other through a mirror angled at 45 degrees. I have 400 questions in front of me as we settle in for five days of intensive interview. This is not the fireside chat in the comfort of the interviewee's home.
Monday, March 31, 2014
In the spring of 2000, I agreed to become the president and chief executive officer of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, the predecessor of USC Shoah Foundation - The Institute for Visual History and Education. My family and I were then living in Chicago, but the hectic pace of preparing to move to Los Angeles did not prevent my wife, Margee, and me from stealing away for a weekend to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We found an isolated beach and flew off, knowing that we would return to the inevitable chaos of moving to LA.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
As a writer fascinated by literary and political theory on history and memory, I watched students from Camino Nuevo High School interview Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter while I sat in awe witnessing the past and future intersect before my eyes.
Monday, April 21, 2014
In April 1994, the genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis officially began, even though the persecution and killing campaign had gone on for decades. In 100 days, close to 1 million women, children and men were slaughtered and tortured to death with machetes, metal sticks and knives.The conflict gained momentum when Belgium became the colonial power in Rwanda after Germany’s defeat in World War I, and further highlighted and reinforced the distinctions between Hutus and Tutsis.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Historical memory is dangerous. In times of crisis, its demons emerge, ugly, toxic, and potentially lethal. We saw it in Donetsk last week. Jews emerging from synagogue during Passover found themselves the target of a despicable anti-Semitic attack – new crisis, old anti-Semitism, which this time accused the Jews of acts of collaboration as far back as 1941.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
A few weeks ago I went shopping at one of my favorite bookstores in Los Angeles. However, I wasn’t picking out a few books that would sit on my metro-read shelf. I was with a few USC Shoah Foundation colleagues—picking out an entire collection of Armenian Genocide History resources for the Doheny Library.A few of my colleagues and I were tasked with picking out resources to expand the library’s collection. We were shopping for the future genocide researchers, scholars, and educators.
Friday, May 2, 2014
When I was a child, my grandfather often told me about the Second World War. While he sat next to me, coloring or teaching me letters of the alphabet, he would sneak in a story about his days in the Soviet army. He would tell me about his post as a commander of a marine unit and how his forces liberated an Austrian town under Nazi occupation.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
The Holocaust has always been a topic close to my heart. Not only because I am Jewish and Israeli, but also because I’ve been learning about the Holocaust since my childhood. Last year, I felt the strongest connection to the Holocaust when I attended March of the Living, a two-week trip to Poland and Israel.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
I look at the picture and realize this is why I’m working at the USC Shoah Foundation. This is what it’s all about. The photo shows two women standing in a field of green grass dotted with dandelions. The younger of the two has her arm wrapped around the other. The older woman smiles at the camera, while the other’s attention is focused only on her friend. The bond between them comes through; the love they share is unmistakable.
Monday, August 31, 2015
Looking into a mirror and making sure her hair looked just so, Yevnigue Salibian didn’t notice me as I was taking her picture. It took a few seconds, but when she finally realized I had documented her act of vanity, she smiled coyly.

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