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 Northwestern University Library has just become the first institution in Illinois to offer complete access to the nearly 52,000 videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses contained in the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive. Recorded in 56 countries and in 32 languages, mainly between 1994 and 1999, the interviews primarily preserve accounts of Jewish Holocaust survivors, but also include those of political prisoners, Sinti and Roma (Gypsy) survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors, survivors of eugenics policies, and homosexual survivors, as well as rescuers and aid providers, liberators and liberation witnesses and participants in war crimes trials.
“The 52,000 testimonies compiled in the Shoah Foundation Institute’s archive will be a remarkably rich research and teaching tool for Northwestern students, faculty, and visitors and for interested people in the wider community,” says Holocaust expert and Northwestern faculty member Peter Hayes. “Moreover, access to this body of testimony will bring them closer to the lived experience of the Holocaust than is possible by virtually any other means.”

“We are thrilled that the research and scholarly communities at Northwestern University, as well as the general community around the University, have access to the Institute’s Visual History Archive,” said Stephen D. Smith, Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute. “Northwestern is the first university in Illinois to provide access to the entire archive. As greater numbers of universities provide access to this unique primary source material, the learning that can come from the testimonies across a wide swath of disciplines will increase exponentially.”

Each testimony discusses the interviewee’s prewar, wartime, and postwar life experiences, in his or her home country and country of immigration. At the conclusion of the testimony, many interviewees display photographs, documents, and artifacts pertaining to his or her life story. Finally, the interviewee may introduce family members and friends on camera. Approximately 150 interviews feature walking tours, in which a portion of the interview was conducted at sites of former concentration camps, ghettos, mass graves, or in front of prewar family homes.

Northwestern is the state’s first public access point for the complete archive; in addition, the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie offers access to a selection of approximately 2,000 testimonies from the Visual History Archive conducted in the Midwest. From Library workstations, users can search for interviews by subject name, biographical detail, and keyword. Many interviews can be streamed instantly to the terminals; others may require a brief wait period as the testimony is transferred electronically from USC to Northwestern. Members of the Northwestern community can access resources and links on the website from off campus by logging in with their Northwestern netIDs and passwords. Members of the public need to visit the Northwestern library in person for access. Please see access details for more information about using the archive, and the Library’s website for information about hours and locations.

Northwestern University Library has prepared a guide (http://libguides.northwestern.edu/VHA) with additional details and FAQs about using the archive. For questions, please contact the Reference Department at  847-491-7656 or write to vha@northwestern.edu.