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Post-Holocaust Testimony


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USC Shoah Foundation Oral History with Peter Feigl

Feigl, Peter interview 1997
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, 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 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 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. 

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. Peter, his mother, and his sister later endured a short internment in the Gurs concentration camp due to their German nationality, after which they moved to Auch, France. There children were hidden in a convent. Peter waited out the war in the Christian 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.

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). 

This "pre-interview questionnaire," or PIQ, and 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."

See, respectively, Henry Greenspan and Sidneyy Bolkosky, "When is an Iinterview an Interview? Notes From Listening to Holocaust Survivors," Poetics Today 27.2 (2006): 431-449; and Susanne Hillman, "'Not Living, but Going': Unheroic Survival, Trauma Performance, and Video Testimony," Holocaust Studies 21.4 (2015): 215–235.

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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 #28408
Date of Interview
April 17, 1997
Duration 00:10:00
Interviewee
Feigl, Peter
Interviewer
Shostak, Robert
Language(s)
English
Location
Palm City, Florida, USA
Reference Location
Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France
Interview Type Oral History
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