The Shoah Foundation
Public History Career Introduction
Historical Authority Supervisor
The Shoah Foundation was founded by Steven Spielberg after he completed the film, Schindler’s List. Prior to filming of the movie, research included interviews of Holocaust survivors. Spielberg decided to use the earnings from the movie to start a foundation to interview additional survivors, and preserve the films/oral histories. He set up a temporary location, on the back lot of his Dream Works studios located at Universal Studios, in Los Angeles, California. Shoah in Hebrew means the Holocaust. Staff of the foundation were asked to refer to the foundation as the Survivors of the Shoah.
I interviewed David; he has a B.A. in history, and was fortunate to have a paid position for the foundation. His job title was a Historical Authority Supervisor, or a cataloging reviewer. David’s job was to catalog the interviews into a computer archive, and organize the interviews based on key words. The reason for this was so people could search a particular interview by topic. They would segment the interview by keywords, so it is searchable by computer. The index included the names of people mentioned and the content, place, time and summary of what happened. For example, conditions in Germany, Ghetto intake procedures, children’s testimonies, liberation of camps, etc.
Cataloging the interviews was a large job. The foundation had a total of 52,000 interviews; however they were not all fully cataloged but are accessible in the archives. Two thousand of the interviews are fully catalogued. Jewish volunteers interviewed Holocaust survivors all over the world. The interviews included men and women from 57 countries, and speaking 32 languages. Using volunteers saved money, however the quality of the interviews varied. There were always professional videographers used during the interviews because film quality of course was important to Spielberg.
Some issues that David experienced at Shoah was that he questioned how neutral or balanced did the archive turn out? Because they were looking for certain information in the testimonies. Only 2,000 testimonies were fully catalogued out of 52,000 interviews. Is that a balance? Also, most of the money for the foundation was based on fundraising. He questioned if this practice may lead to bias because the organization relied on wealthy investors. At the start of the foundation, 48% was funded by Spielberg, and 52% was community based funding. One woman who was prominent in the foundation, and helped to raise money, also raised questions as to her survival of the Holocaust. She told employees that as a child she had survived the Holocaust. However, she remembered the events as an adult under hypnosis. When she was interviewed, her memories did not relate to historic facts. She was considered a prominent person in the community; however her testimony didn’t have credibility.
In order to work for the foundation, it was recommended that all catalogers had to be Jewish, because many people interviewed used Yiddish words, and spoke about religious practices. At one point they did have some non-Jewish staff, however it took additional training to teach them about Judaism and Hebrew words. It was also important to have a background in history, European history, and World War II knowledge. David is Jewish and he went to Hebrew school for 7 years. After David was hired, more employees were hired that had foreign language degrees, and master’s degrees. Most of the foundation staff were volunteers and interns which was considered an unpaid position; however they did receive a small stipend that basically paid for gas. David recommends working as a college professor and to try to become published in your area of interest. When working for a non-profit organization it is difficult to find a paid position.
The interviews are archived at the USC library, as well as the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and the Yad Vashem in Israel. Now, USC runs the program and preserves the archives. If you are interested in watching any testimonies the website is below. The last website provides free videos and materials to teachers ( Holocaust video & Civil Rights Movement videos).
Foundation Website http://college.usc.edu/vhi/?gclid=CPr-o8fol6cCFa1d7AodG2k2cg
Article about foundation http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/16298/spielberg-s-shoah-foundation-shifts-to-educational-role/
The website below provides free materials for teachers that includes: lesson plans, videos, posters, maps and other materials. Fill out the form provided on the website, choose which materials you wish to order and have your administrator sign the form. There is a video titled One Survivor Remembers, based on the autobiography of Gerda Weissman Klein, All But My Life. It is the most interesting and informative biography I have every read.