Southland nonprofit group will digitize Holocaust testimonials

A Southland non-profit manages the largest video archive of Holocaust survivor testimonies. The original videotapes are degrading and the Shoah Foundation has begun a massive effort to transfer their content to digital format. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Filmmaker Steven Spielberg helped start the Shoah Foundation after he released his film "Schindler's List" 15 years ago. He wanted to create a permanent archive of Holocaust survivors' testimonies, like that of Dora Benkemoun. A volunteer in France interviewed her 13 years ago about life under Nazi rule.

Dora Benkemoun: Si on prenait...

Guzman-Lopez: Benkemoun's Holocaust testimonial, and those of almost 52,000 other people, fill 235,000 videotapes. The Shoah Foundation recorded the testimonials on less-than-permanent analog videotape – the standard technology when the project began – says the foundation's chief technology officer Sam Gustman.

Sam Gustman: It's very important to us, it's very important to anyone who has memory on either audiotape or videotape to worry about the long-term preservation of this materials. And we're pushing in this direction to make sure that the testimonies that we have collected and will continue to collect are available for many, many years to come.

Guzman-Lopez: The digitizing effort will take five years and cost $10 million. Most of the process is automated. Archive specialist Georgiana Gomez reviews the tapes for technical glitches. Even though her work is technical, she says, the human stories affect her.

Georgiana Gomez: That moment where they were pulled away from their mother or father and then that was the last time they ever saw their parent. And even all those years later, it's still, they can barely speak about it.

Guzman-Lopez: The Shoah Foundation says more than a dozen institutions around the world pay to access lower-quality digital versions of all 52,000 testimonies. The foundation's also helping documentary producers in Rwanda collect and preserve testimony from people who witnessed the genocide in that country 14 years ago.