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USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: Holocaust

Established in 1994 to preserve the audio-visual histories of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: the Visual History Archive (VHA).

Holocaust Testimony Overview

The mass killing of 5.6-5.8 million Jews by Nazi Germany and its allies during World War II. Systematic killings of Jews by mass shootings began in summer 1941 in the occupied Soviet Union. By the end of that year, the Nazis began establishing extermination sites for the European Jewry using poison gas. Since 1933, the Nazi party had developed ever more radical policies against targeted groups in different ways, first in Germany and later in all annexed and occupied territories, including North Africa. The Holocaust was a global event, since Jews from many parts of the world were killed in Europe while European Jews were forced to emigrate to the Middle East, the Americas, Asia and other continents. The term Holocaust has also come to refer to the Nazis’ persecution and killing of Roma, eugenics policies victims, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political opponents, Soviet prisoners of war, and forced laborers.

The Visual History Archive contains over 54,000 audiovisual testimonies of Holocaust witnesses recorded between 1981 and 2020. The largest collection was recorded by the USC Shoah Foundation (51,566), while major contributions include the collections of a consortium of Canadian archives and museums (1,257), the Jewish Family and Children's Services (JFCS) of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (923).

The majority of the interviews are with Jewish Holocaust survivors. The archive also includes the testimonies of political prisoners, Roma (Gypsy) survivors, Jehovah's Witness survivors, survivors of eugenics policies, and homosexual survivors as well as rescuers, liberators, and participants in war crimes trials.

USC Shoah Foundation interviews were conducted by a single interviewer, while JFCS interviews were in many instances conducted by two. Interviewees were typically encouraged to share their stories in chronological order, recalling memories from before, during, and after World War II. At the end of the interview, they displayed photographs, documents, and artifacts pertaining to their family and wartime experiences, and then introduced family members and friends on camera. Around 159 testimonies conclude with walking interviews, filmed at sites of former concentration camps, ghettos, mass graves, hiding places, or in front of prewar family homes.

The indexing of each interview enables researchers to search in detail for the people, places, events, and experiences described in each one. For example, the archive includes over 1.2 million name records—those of the interviewees themselves, their family members and anyone else they talk about in the interview. The indexing terms include approximately 47,000 specific geographic locations, not only from Europe but from all over the world, and around 8,000 experiential terms used to describe the huge variety of events, experiences, organizations, and other subjects (browse the latter in the Thesaurus).

The Holocaust interviews available in the VHA encompass 33 languages, and 60 interview countries, and 12 different experience groups:

  • Jewish Survivors
  • Rescuer and Aid Providers (Holocaust)
  • Sinti and Roma Survivors
  • Liberators
  • Political Prisoners
  • Jehovah's Witness Survivors
  • War Crimes Trial Participants
  • Miscellaneous (World War II)
  • Eugenic Policies Survivors
  • Non-Jewish Forced Laborers
  • Homosexual Survivors
  • Descendants


Selected Reference Sources

Arolsen Archives - International Center on Nazi Persecution.

Gutman, Israel (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York: Macmillan Pub. Co., 1990.

Hayes, Peter; Roth, John. Oxford Handbook on Holocaust Studies. Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. Vols. 1-3, 3rd ed., New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003.

Ingrao, Christian. “General Chronology of Nazi Violence.” Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence. 14 Mar. 2008. Web.

Megargee, Geoffrey (ed.). The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. Vols. I, II, and III. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009-2018. Available for free download.

Spektor, Shemuʻel. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust. New York: New York University Press.

Stone, Dan. Histories of the Holocaust. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Holocaust Encyclopedia. Web.

Virtual Shtetl - POLIN Museum.

Visual History Archive Curator

Profile Photo
Crispin Brooks