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USC Shoah Foundation inaugurates Center for Advanced Genocide Research

USC psychology Professor Beth Meyerowitz talks and filmmaker Steven Spielberg attended the inauguration of the university's new genocide research center.
USC psychology Professor Beth Meyerowitz talks and filmmaker Steven Spielberg attended the inauguration of the university's new genocide research center.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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USC announced Friday the creation of the Center for Advanced Genocide Research.

The research center will be a unit within the 20 year-old USC Shoah Foundation, an organization that’s amassed nearly 52,000 videotaped interviews of genocide survivors and witnesses. Most are from the Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany against Jews during World War II.

“Today we’re here to announce the creation of a new center that will forever change the way the world recognizes and responds to the threat of genocide,” USC President C.L. Max Nikias said to more than 100 people inside a campus ballroom.

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg started the foundation in 1994 – one year after the release of his Holocaust film Schindler’s List. Its goal is to preserve interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

“There’s so much to be learned from the 52,000 survivor testimonies in the visual history archive that we have right here,” Spielberg said.

The film director and others involved in the creation of the center believe that delving deep into the testimonies will reveal themes and topics that will shed light on the way mass killings have been carried out, their aftermath, and ways to prevent future ones.

The Shoah Foundation’s collection is unique because the 107,000 hours of video testimony are indexed by each minute. The indexing reveals details of the topics each person talks about. Next year the Shoah Foundation plans to include testimonies of the Armenian and Cambodian genocides.

In a panel discussion after the announcement, university professors and others talked about how the new center would establish fellowships and organize conferences to see the testimonies under a new light.

For example, they said, the testimonies have proven an important source for research about physical defiance against German soldiers and sexual violence by Nazis against Jewish victims, both topics that have been studied little because there aren’t a lot of documents on the subjects.

USC psychology professor Beth Meyerowitz said she saw the potential when students studied the archives for class projects.

“We had the Iraqi War veteran who chose to look at soldiers who went in and were rescuers," Meyerowitz said. "We had the immigrant from Mexico who was able to look at people who were forced to immigrate.” 

In 2011, the foundation hosted people who worked for the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. They learned the intricacies of indexing interviews for their work documenting testimonies of survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Related: Rwandan genocide survivors learn to preserve their stories from USC's Shoah Foundation

Mira Becker, a 91 year-old Holocaust survivor, attended Friday's announcement. Her testimony of losing all her family members during the Holocaust is in the Shoah Foundation archives.

“Too many people think it never happened, they think it’s all a lie,” Becker said. She’s worried that after she and other Holocaust survivors die that people will doubt the mass killings ever took place. She says that's why other genocides should be studied.

“Like in Africa, the same thing, they should absolutely talk about it,” Becker said.

She only began to talk about her Holocaust experience eight or nine years ago.

In 2008, Loyola Law School in Los Angeles established a legal center focusing on genocide victims.

The inaugural conference of the Center for Advanced Genocide Research will be in November and focus on the legacy of the film Schindler’s List.