Spielberg’s Shoah project turns memory into action

By Tom Tugend, March 22, 2013
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A 14-year-old New York high school student sat in his classroom and watched the taped testimony of a Holocaust survivor.

In the video, the survivor recalled how he had to kill the family dog as he faced deportation to a wartime ghetto, where there would not be enough food for humans and none for animals.

After watching the testimony, the student went to a neighbourhood animal shelter to volunteer for work.

It was the kind of reaction filmmaker Steven Spielberg hoped for when he and his associates conceived the iWitness Video Challenge, aimed at 6th to 12th-graders in the US and throughout the world.

“Students can use these testimonies to better their communities”

The challenge is to involve the students in the thousands of testimonies gathered from Holocaust survivors by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education, which Mr Spielberg created with the proceeds from his Oscar-winning Holocaust film, Schindler’s List.

Mr Spielberg recently went to the Chandler School in Pasadena, California, to give iWitness its public launch, timed to mark 20 years since the filming of Schindler’s List, in 1993. “The idea behind the iWitness challenge is the same idea that was behind Schindler’s List, that profound changes can occur when one person makes a positive choice,” Mr Spielberg said.

“So students will listen to testimonies from eyewitnesses, they’ll develop insight as to how to use those testimonies to draw conclusions about how they can better their communities. And then build a video essay telling the story how they made their community better.”

A second goal of the project is to help the students achieve “media literacy and digital citizenship in the 21st century,” according to Stephen D Smith, executive director of the Shoah Foundation.

Instead of textbooks, the programme’s basic educational tool is a website, www.iwitness.usc.edu, which holds nearly 1,300 histories told by survivors, liberators and other witnesses to the Holocaust, as well as more recent genocides, mainly in Africa.

From these testimonies, teachers are encouraged to create their own classroom lessons and homework assignments.
This month also saw the release of a Blu-ray version of Schindler’s List, restored from the 35 mm original.

Last updated: 9:45am, March 22 2013