How the Shoah Foundation Works

Additional Acts

Take a close look at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation Web site and you'll see that, even though the foundation is moving firmly into Act Three, this production is far from being over. Even after celebrating its first decade in operation, in some ways it's as though things are just getting started. Talk to Shoah Foundation CEO Doug Greenberg and you'll hear the excitement in his voice. When asked what's up next for the Foundation, Greenberg easily rattles off a litany of projects, including:

  • More documentaries for the "Broken Silence" series (one in Italian is next in line)
  • More testimony reels dealing with focused subjects, like resistance to racism and violence
  • More collaboration with like-minded organizations, educators and educational institutions around the globe

And, possibly even more testimonies.

Even from the beginning, it was Steven Spielberg's intention to get survivors' stories out there for everyone to witness -- not just survivors of the Holocaust, but survivors of other genocides and mass killings. "It's always been in Spielberg's mind that the Holocaust is not the real problem," said Greenberg. "The real problem is racism and genocidal violence. And the contribution we have to make is how to document those things using video and how to make them accessible to others."

When asked what impact would it have had on what happened in Rwanda if the Shoah Foundation had been established five or 10 years earlier, Greenberg said:

I'd like to think that if we'd been around for 10 years before the genocide in Rwanda, then maybe somebody would have taken a deep breath in the spring of 1994 and said, "You know, there's another holocaust going on and we ought to do something to stop it."

He went on to point out that the American press is paying attention to the current crisis in the Sudan -- much more so than it did in 1994 with Rwanda. "I hope that one of the reasons that the American press is paying attention to Sudan is that organizations like the Shoah Foundation have raised people's consciousness about the problem of genocide generally," said Greenberg. He continued:

The Rwandan case is one that in retrospect got people thinking again about the Holocaust. I'm sure we're going to make a difference in the future ... It's about consciousness raising worldwide, but it's [also] about giving the survivors the opportunity to talk about what they suffered -- and that includes Rwandan and Cambodian survivors and the survivors of the mass murders in the Balkans and other places.

Greenberg believes that the Shoah Foundation has a unique contribution to make. "There have been testimonies done of all these genocides in writing and sometimes on audiotape," says Greenberg, "but there's something palpably different about watching video -- that's the contribution we can make and we can teach people how to do it."

With contacts in the local Cambodian and Rwandan communities in California, the Shoah Foundation plans to pilot a very small and carefully planned project in the summer of 2004. It'll start by collecting a small number of testimonies about the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. Next, it will begin to develop language-specific thesauri for each of those genocides and start thinking about what the appropriate issues are that need to be addressed. As with the Holocaust testimony, the Foundation will be relying on a host of contacts to ensure that it has the right kind of expertise and cultural sensitivity to carry out the project in the best possible manner.

Once the pilot project is completed, the Foundation will be looking at a broader set of initiatives. Instead of embarking on the systematic interviewing of survivors-at-large, it'll be looking at ways to help others do it.