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.
Peter Feigl gave his testimony to the Shoah Foundation on April 19, 1997, two years after he had already been interviewed for the USHMM oral history collection. Peter Ernst Feigl was born on March 1, 1929 in Berlin. In 1936, his family moved to Prague, where they remained for a year until moving to Vienna. In the following years the family remained on the move, trying to keep away from the Nazis, fleeing to Brussels after the Anschluss in 1938. Feigl's father went to Antwerp (in Belgium) for work. However, he was stopped and arrested by Belgian authorities because of his German passport. Feigl's father was later interned in the Caen prison camp in France, after which point Peter moved with his mother and sister to Paris. Due to the intense bombings in Paris, the family then relocated to Bordeaux. Peter, his mother, and his sister endured a short internment in the Gurs concentration camp due to their German nationality, after which they moved to Auch, France, where the children were hidden in a convent. Peter waited out the war in the Huguenot community of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in southern France that hid and saved some 5,000 Jews during the war. Both of his parents were killed at Auschwitz.
In both of the USC and USHMM interviews, Feigl talks about his experiences, as well as the diary that he wrote as a child during the war, and its impact on his memory today. In this short selection from the larger interview, Feigl speaks about the significance and meaning of the diary that he kept while in hiding and about the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon who protected him.