Shoah Foundation changes focus to improving access to testimony

LOS ANGELES, June 7 (JTA) — The end of Michael Berenbaum’s tenure as president and chief executive officer of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation reflects a change not only in the organization’s leadership, but also in its direction. Until now, the foundation, established by Steven Spielberg five years ago after the success of his film “Schindler’s List,” has focused on the massive task of gathering 50,000 testimonies from survivors. Now that the foundation has achieved this goal, the focus will be on formatting and applying the testimonies for archival and educational purposes, and developing new technologies to assure the widest access to the material. “In a way, we’ve mined the ore and now have to decide how best to use it,” said Marvin Levy, Spielberg’s chief spokesman. The Shoah Foundation did not make an official announcement of the change, but its spokesmen and Berenbaum insisted that the decision was an amicable one and that he will continue as a full-time consultant. Ari Zev, the foundation’s executive director, has assumed the additional position of acting CEO and said that “eventually” a permanent head will be sought to replace Berenbaum. Sources familiar with the foundation reported that during his 2«-year tenure, Berenbaum had focused on his historical and academic interests, with frequent out-of-town engagements, to the detriment of day-to-day management decisions. A statement by the foundation’s board of directors noted that the new arrangement will allow Berenbaum “a greater opportunity to accomplish (the foundation’s) academic and development objectives, without having the added responsibility of internal day-to-day administration.” Berenbaum said that as consultant he will be “available as approached by the foundation,” and will have time for academic research and to complete a book dealing with liberal spirituality within contemporary Jewish theology. Asked what he considered his main accomplishments during his tenure, Berenbaum cited his leadership and vision in “establishing a national and international presence” for the Shoah Foundation. He also noted that during his tenure, the foundation raised $25 million to up its endowment to $75 million, garnered an Academy Award for a documentary and developed a CD-ROM on the experiences of child survivors to be distributed to high schools in the fall. His current contract as president of the foundation has seven more months to run, Berenbaum said. As a scholar and historian, Berenbaum has written 11 books on different aspects of the Holocaust. He was a key figure in the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and served as its research director before joining the Shoah Foundation.

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