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USC Shoah Foundation Oral History with Abraham Bomba

Bomba, Abraham oral history 1996
USC Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education

Between 1994 and 1999, the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation conducted 51,000 interviews with Holocaust survivors, witnesses, and rescuers from around the world. This archive is one of the most comprehensive collections of witness testimony ever created.1 The Foundation's mission now reaches far beyond Holocaust education and aims to "overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry—and the suffering they cause—through the educational use of its visual history testimonies." Testimonies have been collected in 63 countries and 41 languages.

Prior to providing an interview, survivors complete a 50-page-long questionnaire that asks for names, dates, and experiences from before, after, and during the Holocaust and World War II.2 Interviewers are expected to familiarize themselves with the survivor's history so that questions can be asked accordingly. The Foundation Interviewer Guidelines include "helpful hints" for interview questions, and suggest an attention to chronology over stream-of-consciousness narration. The Foundation's instructions also propose ways in which the interviewer might deal with certain types of subjects. For more "eloquent, forthcoming, focused" respondents, the interviewer can take a more removed approach and ask few questions. For those who "jump around" or "display difficulty expressing [themselves]," the interviewer is instructed to help guide the conversation, even "interject and ask more specific questions" and "maintain chronology of events." More detailed instructions even lay out the ways in which the subject should be filmed.3

On August 14, 1996, ten years after the release of the documentary film, Shoah, in which he was prominently featured, Abraham Bomba gave an additional interview to the USC Shoah Visual History Foundation. In the three-hour-long interview, Bomba discusses many different aspects of his experiences, including his job as a barber in the Treblinka killing center. Unlike his interview with Claude Lanzmann in Shoah, Bomba's testimony for the Shoah Foundation conforms to a more traditional version of recorded testimony: prewar life, wartime experience, postwar renewal. Neither the interviewer nor Bomba himself make any mention of Lanzmann's film.

In this short segment of the extended interview, Bomba describes the killing process at Treblinka, just as he does in the film, Shoah, and its outtakes. Several questions arise: How does one retelling inform another? Does Bomba use the same (or similar) language in each "version" of his narrative? How does Bomba's manner differ in each interview? Is this important to how he describes his role as a barber in Treblinka? How does the purpose of each interview differ, and what is the impact on the final product?

For more on forms of knowledge in Holocaust studies, and the critical contribution of "witness testimony" to Holocaust memory and history, see Annette Wieviorka, The Era of the Witness, trans. Jared Stark (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).

The PIQ, Interviewer Guidelines, Videographer Guidelines and other reference sources about the Shoah Foundation's methods are available on the Collecting Testimony page of their website.

The questionnaire instructions state: "At no point is the interviewer directed to stop the tape unless the survivor insists or absolutely cannot continue. At the start of each interview, the interviewer appears on camera with the survivor, announcing the date, place, and language of the interview. This is the only time that the interviewer is present on film. After this point, the camera cuts to a tight shot of the survivor, in his or her home. In fact, the Videographer Guidelines indicate that he/she is to "always choose a location that allows for depth, with a glimpse of the survivor’s home in the background."

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
USC Shoah Foundation-The Institute for Visual History and Education
External Website USC Shoah Visual History Foundation #18061
Date of Interview
August 14, 1996
Duration 00:23:00
Abraham Bomba
Louise Bobrow
Monticello, New York, USA
Reference Location
Treblinka (historical)
Interview Type Oral History
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