Focus : The Holocaust . . . as Told by Those Who Lived It : TBS PRESENTS THE FIRST DOCUMENTARY PRODUCED BY THE SHOAH VISUAL HISTORY FOUNDATION
Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Oscar-winning drama, “Schindler’s List,” opened everyone’s eyes to the horror and devastation of the Holocaust during World War II. But Spielberg’s passion to ensure that the world would never forget the Holocaust didn’t stop with “Schindler’s List” continues.
In 1994, the director created the nonprofit organization, the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which is dedicated to locating and interviewing Holocaust survivors around the world to preserve their memories of what happened during World War II. Eventually, online technology will bring more than 100,000 hours of survivor testimony to schools, libraries and other educational institutions.
“Survivors of the Holocaust,” airing Monday on TBS, is the first documentary produced by the Shoah Visual History Foundation. The one-hour documentary features heartbreaking personal testimonies of what happened before, after and during World War II. “Survivors” also utilizes archival footage, original music, source music, survivors’ photographs and artifacts to augment the testimonies.
“We took testimonies from our foundation collection,” says James Moll, who along with partner June Beallor, is producer of the documentary and senior producer of the foundation.
“It’s the first usage of the testimonies for education,” Moll adds. “As you probably know, Steven Spielberg’s vision was to collect all of these testimonies from all over the world. The on-line system won’t be ready until 1997, so he wanted us to take these testimonies and incorporate them into documentaries, CD-Roms and other uses for educational purposes to get them in schools as soon as possible. We are already planning another documentary.”
What makes the documentary unique, Moll explains, is that “it’s the story of the Holocaust told by the survivors, the people who lived it, the people who felt it. These are first-hand eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust. There’s no narrator. There are no detailed dates, places and times. This is very much from the heart from the people who were actually there.”
At the conclusion of each testimony, the survivors show their personal photographs. “This is something Steven decided at our very first meeting with him,” Beallor says. “He wanted us to ask every survivor to show their photographs on camera so they can be included in the multimedia system. Some of those photographs found their way into the documentary. In addition, in every testimony we ask the survivors to invite family members to be on camera with them.”
For most of the survivors, these interviews mark the first time they’ve been able to discuss their experiences at length. “What we have learned,” Beallor says, “is that when they first came to the United States or anywhere after the war, nobody wanted to hear their stories. Even if they wanted to talk about it, no one wanted to hear it. It was too painful to listen to. So they just shut down. So now 50 years later, it’s their last opportunity because many of them are getting older. ‘Schindler’s List’ has opened doors. Now a lot of survivors are coming forward.”
The producers hope the documentary will teach students today lessons in tolerance. “Tolerance issues are one of the biggest problems in school for kids,” says Beallor. “I think there are a lot of lessons within this documetary that we can also look at and say: ‘Why does this happen? What makes someone want to hate another person because of their race, religion and color?’ The emotional lessons come through.”
No one knows exactly how many Holocaust survivors are alive today. “Probably a couple of hundred thousand,” Beallor says. “We’ve spoken to experts and there is no definite answer.”
The foundation finds survivors through its community outreach programs and 1-800 number. “Other survivors who have given testimony talk to their friends,” Beallor says.
So far, the foundation has interviewed approximately 10,000 survivors worldwide. “We are hoping to do close to 50,000 in the first three years,” Moll says.
“Survivors of the Holocaust” airs Monday at 5:05 and 8:05 p.m. on TBS. Any survivors who wish to give their testimonies may contact the Shoah Foundation at (800) 661-2092.