The founding director of Britain’s first Holocaust museum, Stephen Smith, is leaving the country to head a major archive of survivor testimonies established by film-maker Steven Spielberg.
Dr Smith, who opened the Holocaust Centre in Laxton, Nottinghamshire, in 1995 with his brother James, is to be the new executive director of the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, based at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Dr Smith, who also chairs the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: “More than 50,000 survivors of the Holocaust invested their life histories in this unique archive.
“To have the chance to be custodian of their timeless truths is an honour and a heavy responsibility.”
The archive, which includes oral testimonies, was founded in 1994 by Mr Spielberg following the release of his award-winning Holocaust film, Schindler’s List, the previous year.
Speaking from Los Angeles, Dr Smith, who was interviewed by Mr Spielberg, described the film director as “a visionary who understands the need to tell the timeless truths of the Holocaust. He understands why it is important for humanity in the long-run”.
He added that he would particularly miss the UK Holocaust survivors with whom he has worked over the past 15 years.
He is due to begin his new role in August but will remain on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust until next year’s commemoration in January.
The executive vice-president of the University of Southern California, Max Nikias, said: “We are thrilled to see a scholar of Stephen Smith’s calibre at the helm.”
Dr Smith and his brother also set up the Aegis Trust, which has been active in the commemoration of the Rwanda genocide and publicising atrocities against civilians in Darfur, southern Sudan.
Dr James Smith, who is chief executive of the Aegis Trust, said that his brother’s appointment to “this key role is wonderful recognition of the quality of the work undertaken here at the Holocaust Centre.
“We have already started the process of appointing a new interim director, to build on the foundations laid by Stephen, myself and our ever increasing team of staff, volunteers and supporters.
“We look forward to continuing to work closely with Stephen in his important new role as a friend and ally as we enter this exciting new phase in our development.”