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.
This interview selection comes from the larger testimony of Michael Kraus given on June 4, 1996, whose postwar memoir can be found here.
Michal (now Michael) Kraus is the son of Dr. Karel Kraus and Lotte (Lola) Kraus née Goldschmid. He was born on June 28, 1930 in Trutnov (today in the Czech Republic) and grew up in Náchod where his mother's family had lived since the 17th century. His father was born in Náchod in 1891 and received his medical diploma from the University of Vienna in 1910. As an army physician during World War I, Michal's father was wounded, and had been poisoned by gas in a trench. After the war, he returned to Náchod where he established a practice as a general practitioner. Michal attended a Czech elementary school; he spoke Czech at home with his parents. Náchod was on the border with Germany, so during the mobilization of the Czechoslovak army in the summer of 1938, Michal and his mother moved to the house of relatives in Hlinsko, further to the south.3 As a physician, his father stayed in Náchod. Soon afterward, however, Michal and his mother returned home. Early in the morning on March 15, 1939, German soldiers crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. Upon seeing them camped in the main square in front of her windows, Michal's aunt took her own life. The Nazis soon enacted numerous antisemitic ordinances. Michal was expelled from school, and his father was prohibited from practicing medicine. The family's valuables were confiscated. In mid 1940 two other families moved into their house, and in September 1941 the Krauses were evicted from their villa and forced to live in a single room in a house without running water. Then, in December 1942, all Jews were sent to Hradec Kralove and from there deported to Theresienstadt. On December 15th, one year after arriving in Theresienstadt, Michal's family was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In June 1944 his mother was sent to Stutthof, a concentration camp in northern Poland near the Baltic Sea; she perished there in January 1945. Michal's father was sent to the Birkenau gas chamber on July 11, 1944. After surviving a death march, Michal was liberated by American troops in May 1945.
In this small selection from his larger interview, Kraus discusses the composition of his diary, postwar memoir, and general postwar state of mind as a young man who survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and other concentration camps.