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Using the Visual History Archive, world's largest collection of eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust

November 10, 2010

Pamela Whiteley McLaughlin
(315) 443-9788

Douglas Ballman of the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education will present an open training session on the Visual History Archive (VHA) on Friday, Nov. 12 from 10-11:30 a.m. in the Peter Graham Scholarly Commons in Bird Library. The session will cover the basics of accessing the VHA as well as strategies for incorporating its use in courses. 

Syracuse University is one of just 26 institutions in five countries worldwide to provide access to the complete Visual History Archive, an online collection of video interviews of Holocaust survivors, rescuers and liberators, and war crimes trial participants.  

The VHA is one of the largest databases of its kind, comprising nearly 52,000 video testimonies in 32 languages and representing 56 countries. It is fully indexed and searchable through a set of more than 50,000 keywords and phrases, 1.2 million names, and 500,000 images, allowing users to retrieve whole testimonies or segments within testimonies that relate to their areas of interest. 

Inspired by his experience making Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg founded the Shoah Foundation Institute in 1994 to gather and preserve video testimonies from survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. The resulting Visual History Archive contains testimonies from Jewish survivors, homosexual survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, survivors of Eugenics policies, and war crimes trials participants. 

Says Harvey Teres, director of the Judaic Studies Program: “The Visual History Archive is the largest collection of testimony ever compiled. It is a database replete with stories both harrowing and heroic, and will be of interest to anyone who wants to understand the modern world in all its historical and moral complexity. The Archive includes victims of Nazism persecuted for their Jewish religion, political views, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Its sophisticated research tools offer myriad paths through the vast collection that will support many kinds of inquiry. I hope that the Archive will become a part of every student’s education at Syracuse, as well as a component of a wide range of scholarly projects undertaken by our faculty across the schools and colleges.”

Given the broad scope and diverse content of the VHA, the testimonies have the potential to support research and pedagogy in a variety of disciplines. It has served as a key resource for dozens of courses offered at universities around the world–courses in history, Judaic studies, political science, religious studies, sociology, film/cinema, anthropology, Ger­man/Eastern European/Slavic studies, women’s/gender Studies, English, French, art, communica­tions, education, psychology, philosophy and comparative.

Examples include:

  • Remembering + Narrating = History?: Introduction to Historical Science Theories   (History, Freie Universität-Berlin)
  • Psychological Adjustment following Traumatic Life Events: the Case of Genocide   (Psychology, University of Southern California)
  • Visuality and Violence (Women & Gender/American Studies, Yale University)
  • Human Rights & Genocide Workshop (Education, University of Minnesota)
  • Recording Oral History: History and Practice (History, Monash University, Australia)
  • Between Resistance & Collaboration: Individuals Responding to National Socialism   (German Studies, Rice University)
  • Holocaust as Public History (History, University of California-San Diego)

For more information on this session or on using the Visual History Archive, contact Lydia Wasylenko at 443-4692 or

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