Between 1994 and 1999, the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation conducted 51,000 interviews with Holocaust survivors, bystanders, and rescuers from around the world. This archive stands as 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 fifty-page questionnaire that asks for names, dates, and experiences from before, after, and during the Holocaust and World War II.2 The interviewer is expected to familiarize him/herself with the survivor's particular 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 a 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 is to be filmed.3
The Shoah Foundation has been both praised and criticized for their work. While some scholars point towards a type of "Hollywoodization" of memory, others see the benefits in an expansive collection of oral histories of the Holocaust.4 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.
Michal (now Michael) Kraus recorded an oral history with the Shoah Foundation on June 4, 1996. The segment of his testimony presented here covers the composition of his wartime diary, postwar memoir, and records the general postwar state of mind as a young man who survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and other concentration camps.
Kraus was born to Dr. Karel Kraus and Lotte (Lola) Kraus (née Goldschmid) 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 seventeenth century. His father was born in Náchod in 1891 and received his medical diploma from the University of Vienna in 1910. After serving as army physician during World War I, Michal's father returned to Náchod where he established a practice as a doctor.
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.5 Meanwhle, continuing his work 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. He eventually emigrated to the United States, living there until his death in 2018.6