The USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education hosted its first International Digital Access, Outreach and Research Conference, highlighting the foundation’s visual history archive, which contains 52,000 video interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses from 56 countries.
The conference at USC, held March 25-26, drew representatives from 25 universities and museums and featured a keynote address from Omer Bartov, a Brown University history and German studies professor who is considered a leading authority on genocide.
Bartov spoke to a room of 100 people on Friday, arguing that video testimonies from the Holocaust, which include diaries, post-war interviews and more, are underused. During his address, Bartov made a case for the integration of testimony as historical documents.
“Testimonies are vastly important historical documents that have been underused by historians,” Bartov said. “Especially when it comes to the Holocaust.”
Bartov added that testimony brings forth pieces of historical events that would be otherwise unknown. Many historians are weary of using testimony as fact, he said, but as long as you are aware that people can see the same event in different ways, and report it as so, then testimony is irreplaceable to our knowledge of events like the Holocaust.
After speaking on the importance of testimony, as well as his current project, which involves integrating hundreds of hours of testimony into a single text, Bartov read quoted testimonies to the audience.
“Testimonies, at times, tell us more than we would like to know,” Bartov warned before he began reading. “These accounts, though painful, are an important piece of the past. The main goal of the Holocaust was to silence these people. We shouldn’t do the same.”
Other sessions throughout the conference included “Visual History Archive Tips and Tricks” and “Testimonies as Historical Evidence: Reconstructing the Holocaust From Below.”
The Shoah Foundation was established in 1994 by Steven Spielberg to preserve the testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust.