Testimony: The Legacy of Schindler’s List and the USC Shoah Foundation” by Steven Spielberg and the Shoah Foundation— Behind the Scenes


Spielberg, Steven and The Shoah Foundation. “Testimony: The Legacy of Schindler’s List and the USC Shoah Foundation”, The Shoah Foundation, 2014.

Behind the Scenes

Amos Lassen

Because of the course I am teaching this year on Hannah Arendt, I am constantly looking for new information about the Holocaust and this is because I am trying very hard to put the pieces of the puzzle in my mind together. Now we have a large format, illustrated book that has been published as a way to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the making of Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”. The book is a behind the scenes look at the making of the film as well as history of the Shoah Foundation, the organization that inspired the film.

It includes Spielberg’s meetings with Holocaust survivors who came to the set of the film and told him their personal stories which set him on a journey to collect and preserve testimonies for future generations. We are now at a point in history in which survivors are leaving this world yet we do not want to forget what they endured at the hands of the Nazis.

In 1994, Spielberg set up the Shoah foundation and during the four years that followed, he was able to gather some 52,000 eyewitness interviews from 56 countries and in 32 languages. These could have been lost forever. In this book we learn how this was accomplished.

There is also a special 140-page section tells the story of the film in photos, script excerpts, and the words of the cast and crew, including Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Spielberg. “Drawing from the Universal Pictures archives and exclusive interviews, here are details on Spielberg’s struggle to bring Oskar Schindler’s story from novel to script to screen, the casting, cinematography, and especially what happened during the difficult shoot in Poland in 1993—on locations where actual events of the Holocaust occurred”. 

In 2006, Spielberg partnered with the University of Southern California and the USC Shoah Foundation has broadened its mission and now collects and preserves testimonies from other genocides, including those in Armenia, Cambodia, and Rwanda. It has also expanded its educational outreach, especially to young people. Its Visual History Archive—digitized, fully searchable, and hyperlinked to the minute—has become the largest digital collection of its kind in the world.  As Spielberg writes in his introduction, “I believe the work of the USC Shoah Foundation is the most important legacy of his film.”

“Schlinder’s List” was released in 1993 and was a surprise sensation. It won seven Academy Awards and it is ranked number nine in the list of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies. Spielberg says it is the most important work of his life.

Part One of the book is about the making of the film and is accompanied black-and-white photographs that remind us of the wonderful cinematography. It includes excerpts from the script and the Thomas Keneally novel; and in the words of the cast and crew, including Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, and Spielberg.

Part Two shows how the Shoah Foundation, in its first four years, raced against time to videotape the testimonies, while Holocaust survivors and witnesses were still alive to be interviewed. “The book also describes in fascinating detail how this worldwide network of dedicated people used pioneering methods and state-of-the-art technologies to collect, index, and preserve the video recordings. With its Visual History Archive digitized, fully searchable, and hyperlinked to the minute, the foundation then developed countless ways to share the testimonies with the world, especially young people. Since joining the University of Southern California in 2006 and renamed the USC Shoah Foundation—The Institute for Visual History and Education, it expanded its educational initiatives as well as its mission, which is now collecting and preserving testimonies from the Armenian, Cambodian, and Rwandan genocides, as well as the Nanjing Massacre”.

What we learn from the film and from the Shoah Foundation comes from Oskar Schindler who went on to become a hero at a time when heroes were scarce. Spielberg, in referring to Schindler tells is that, “One person can change the world, and that person is you.”

“Steven Spielberg (Introduction)
The renowned director and producer of Schindler’s List has also directed, among other acclaimed films, Lincoln, War Horse, Saving Private Ryan, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Amistad, and Jaws. He established the Shoah Foundation in 1994, inspired by his experience while filming Schindler’s List”.

“Stephen D. Smith (Preface)
The executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, Smith is one of the world’s foremost experts on genocide prevention and the inaugural holder of the UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education at USC. His books include Forgotten Places: The Holocaust and the Remnants of Destruction and The Holocaust and the Christian World”.

“The USC Shoah Foundation—The Institute for Visual History and Education In its first decade, the Shoah Foundation accomplished its worldwide project of interviewing nearly 52,000 survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust, and making their testimonies widely available for scholarship and education. Now part of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (VHA) currently encompasses 107,000 hours of video testimonies, and is an invaluable resource for education, research, and scholarship. Through innovative online tools, resources, and programs, the institute is teaching the world through testimony”.