Filmmaker Steven Spielberg has turned over his Shoah Foundation to the University of Southern California. With a mixture of elation and nostalgia, Spielberg turned over the foundation, with its 52,000 videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses, at an Oct. 20 news conference.
“I feel like a proud and wistful parent whose child has graduated high school and is now enrolling at USC,” said Spielberg, who created the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation as a historical continuation of his Oscar-winning movie “Schindler’s List.”
Since 1994, Spielberg’s “child” has grown into the largest digital library in the world, representing testimonies from 56 countries in 32 languages, totaling 117,000 viewing hours.
The archive was sought by numerous universities and institutions. USC won out on the strength of its pioneering digital technology research, international outreach and scholarly resources, said Douglas Greenberg, president and CEO of the Shoah Foundation.
Spielberg holds an honorary doctorate from USC and serves on its board of trustees, though he noted that “The best thing USC did was not to accept me” when the young Spielberg applied to its film school.
During a brief ceremony, USC President Steven Sample said that “When I visited the memorial at Auschwitz, I could see that it was, appropriately, about those who died. But the Shoah Foundation is about the living and the indomitable human spirit.”
The archive’s content has been adapted for feature films and documentaries, has reached nearly 2 million students in 30,000 schools, makes up parts of 70 collections in 18 countries, is used in teacher workshops and can be accessed on the Internet in the form of interactive exhibits.
Sample and USC Provost C.L. Max Nikias pledged to preserve and expand the Shoah Foundation’s mission “in perpetuity,” which Spielberg said was his primary motive for the transfer.
“There is a prejudice against figureheads in Hollywood. The Shoah Foundation, sad to say, will be taken much more seriously by the world now than when it has been with a filmmaker at its head,” Spielberg said.
Out of the $150 million raised and spent by the Shoah Foundation since 1994, Spielberg personally has contributed $65 million.
“I’ve done my share,” he said.
The ambitions of the Shoah Foundation’s founder and successor institution go well beyond the current accomplishments.
“In 10 years, I see the foundation as the hub of a wheel with many spokes,” Spielberg said. The “spokes” will represent the visual histories of man’s inhumanity to man, from the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia to the sufferings of Native Americans and black slaves in the United States.
The foundation’s transfer to USC will become official Jan. 1, when its name changes to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. It will be part of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Greenberg will continue as executive director of the institute, reporting to the college’s dean and the USC provost. He also was appointed an adjunct professor of history.
Plans call for extensive interdisciplinary collaboration with other USC departments, the USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American life, the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and a range of other universities and institutions.
Spielberg said he would remain committed to his goal of teaching tolerance around the world.
“I will continue to be your ambassador,” he promised the USC leadership.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.