Since being established in 1994 by Steven Spielberg on the heels of his film, Schindler’s List, the Shoah Foundation has collected 53,000 video testimonies from survivors, bystanders, and rescuers around the world. Between 1994 and 1999, the USC Shoah Foundation Archive conducted 51,000 interviews with the aim of creating one of the most comprehensive collections of witness testimony in the world. The Shoah Foundation bills itself as the "largest visual history foundation in the world." The Foundation's professed mission now reaches far beyond Holocaust education and endeavors 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 the interview itself, survivors complete a fifty-page pre-interview questionnaire, or PIQ, that asks for copious names, dates, and experiences pre-war, during the Holocaust, and post-war.1 The interviewer is thus expected to familiarize him/herself with the survivor's particular history so that questions can be tailored accordingly. The Foundation Interviewer Guidelines include "helpful hints" for interview questions, and suggest an attention to chronology over stream-of-consciousness narration. Moreover, this document also proposes ways in which the interviewer might deal with certain types of subjects. For the interviewee who is "eloquent, forthcoming, focused," the interviewer should "listen and follow the interview, ask fewer questions...and ask questions based on research." For the interviewee who "jumps around to different time periods or speaks about general events," one should "guide the interviewee to give eyewitness testimony and maintain the chronology of events." Finally, for those who display "difficulty expressing him/herself due to language, health, or emotional condition, there are lapses in memory, interviewee jumps from topic to topic" the interviewer needs to "interject and ask more specific questions; maintain chronology of events" and "use tape breaks to discuss the progress of the interview with the interviewee." 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."
The Shoah Foundation has been both lauded and criticized for the exhaustive nature of their work. While some scholars point towards a type of "Hollywoodization" of memory, others see the merits in an expansive oral history of the Holocaust, broadly defined.2 The quality and breadth of these interviews (and the experience of the interviewers) also vary widely. These interviews mark another important transition in the history of testimony: the digitization and keywording of testimonies for research use.
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 interview, Bomba discusses many different aspects of his experience, including his prewar life, as well as his job as a barber in the Treblinka death camp. Unlike his interview with Claude Lanzmann, 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. Among the questions that arise are: 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?
See the outtakes from Shoah with Abraham Bomba here.