Teach Your Children Well

After videotaping the testimonies of more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors during the past seven years, a foundation created by filmmaker Steven Spielberg will now shift its focus to an even more daunting task, a worldwide educational campaign against prejudice, intolerance and bigotry.

Spielberg, who launched the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation following the global impact of his film "Schindler’s List," termed the completion of an archive holding 51,661 eyewitness testimonies "a dream that became a remarkable reality."

Each of the interviewed survivors has become "a teacher, putting a real face, a real voice, a real experience in front of this and future generations," Spielberg said. "The archive is their perpetual link to our expanded long-range objectives of remembrance and education."

Using state-of-the-art media technology, the educational effort will be aimed particularly at a new generation of students, said Douglas Greenberg, president and CEO of the Shoah Foundation.

"We will pursue this effort with the same urgency as our original mission of interviewing aging survivors," Greenberg said in a phone interview. "We hope to change not only how people think, but how they behave."

To oversee the outreach program, the Shoah Foundation is establishing an Education Department, with an annual budget of $2 million. An international search for a director to head the department is now under way.

Parallel to the new program, 69 cataloguers and researchers are tackling the mammoth task of reviewing and indexing the 117,000 hours of testimonies by men and women — from 57 countries and speaking in 32 languages — who either survived concentration camps, were in hiding during the Holocaust, lived under Nazi rule or rescued Jews.

It would take a single person, scanning the videos 24 hours a day, more than 13 years to finish the job.

As it is, it will take the staff four more years to link the archived material through 25,000 key words. The time period would have been much longer but for an innovative technology developed in-house, which allows one person to catalogue a single testimony (usually two hours long, but running up to five hours) in half a day, instead of the previous one week.

The final result, Greenberg believes, will be the largest available video database in the world, usable by scholars, teachers, students, and eventually the general public.

Some of the testimonies are already viewable at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and other designated repositories will be at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University, and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Greenberg is now looking for additional "strategic partnerships" and a permanent office has opened in Berlin.

"Our focus is not only on the United States, but the whole world," he added. "We’re particularly interested in Europe, where the Holocaust took place and which still faces ethnic and religious conflicts."

The Shoah Foundation has also reversed its previous ban against making the testimonies available on the Internet, to avoid misuse by hate groups and others.

Now, said Greenberg, "We won’t put the entire archive on the Internet, but we’ll have some significant chunks of it. We’ll find a sensible and secure way to do this."

Some testimonies can be viewed on the Shoah Foundation’s Web site: www.vhf.org.

The Foundation already has a head start in its educational outreach, mainly through CD-ROMs and film documentaries.

One CD-ROM titled "Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust" is being used in American and German schools, while prize-winning documentaries include "The Last Days," (a 1998 Oscar recipient), "Survivors of the Holocaust" and "The Lost Children of Berlin."

Now completed or in the works are documentaries by five international directors, drawing on survivors’ testimonies in their own languages. "Some Who Lived" (Argentina), "Eyes of the Holocaust" (Hungary) and "I Remember" (Poland) have already debuted in their countries.

To be shown later this year are "Hell on Earth" (Czech Republic) and "Children of the Abyss" (Russia).

The entire series, titled "Broken Silence," will be broadcast on Cinemax next year. To underwrite its ambitious programs, the Foundation, whose current annual budget is $12.8 million (including salaries for 140 employees), is stepping up its fundraising efforts.

Greenberg would not specify a figure, saying, "We’ll raise as much as we can, as fast as we can."

Will the Shoah Foundation ever complete its mission and close up shop?

"When we first started in 1994, we thought that after collecting 50,000 survivor testimonies, our mission would be completed," he responded.

Bigotry still exists, however, acting as a seedbed for some future Holocaust. Thus, a "final victory" is not in sight.

Greenberg summarized: "We started as a project, and are now on our way to becoming an institution."