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Holocaust Museum Official to Head Spielberg Foundation

November 27, 1996
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Michael Berenbaum has been named president and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Berenbaum will resign as director of the Research Institute of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to assume his new position in January in Los Angeles.

The Shoah Foundation was established by Steven Spielberg, following the success of his film “Schindler’s List,” to videotape and preserve the testimony and experiences of Holocaust survivors around the world.

More than 23,000 survivors in 28 countries have been interviewed. The Foundation aims to interview 50,000 survivors by the end of 1997.

Spielberg praised Berenbaum’s background as a scholar and said he would spearhead “the educational distribution of the archive and further the foundation’s mission over the next few critical years.”

Berenbaum said he also would be involved in continuing development of tolerance and Holocaust studies curricula.

In a phone interview, Berenbaum responded to occasional criticism that the Shoah Foundation, thanks to Spielberg’s financial backing, tended to stifle the work of institutions engaged for many years in interviews of survivors.

Other Holocaust projects, he said, “are all related to each other. We are colleagues, not competitors.”

Five of the leading Holocaust research centers have been designated as repositories for the testimonies being taped by the Foundation. They are Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Some critics of Spielberg’s effort have questioned whether the Shoah Foundation’s interviewers possessed the historical background and scholarly depth for their sensitive work.

“That’s one reason Steven Spielberg turned to me,” said Berenbaum, who has written 11 books on different aspects of the Holocaust and is an adjunct professor of theology at Georgetown University.

Berenbaum, 51, was a key figure in the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as its first project director. Early last year, he was a candidate to serve as the museum’s overall director, but was not selected by the museum’s executive committee.

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