Senior News Editor
The Holocasut has been extensively documented in numerous forms – through print, film and documentaries yet all modes share a common theme: they focus heavily on the stories and recollections of just a few of the millions of people affected by the tragedy that has been seen as one of humanity’s greatest failures.
In an effort provide a more in depth insight into the Holocaust and the experiences of the survivors who have lived to tell their story, the USC Shoah Foundation, founded by world renowned producer Steven Spielburg and Branko Lustig, a Holocaust survivor and Oscar Award-winning producer, has donated the Visual History Archive to McMaster.
The archive, offered through McMaster University’s online network for access from the University campus as well as through remote access to McMaster’s Virtual Privacy Network, is intended for use by students, faculty and researchers.
The archive is one of the largest of its kind, and McMaster is the only Canadian university to offer the collection of nearly 52,000 testimonies from Holocaust survivors coming from a variety of groups targeted by the genocide.
The archive contains testimonies from Jewish survivors, Jehovah’s Witness, homosexual, liberators and liberation witnesses, rescuers and aid providers, political prisoners, Sinti and Roma survivors, as well as participants of war crime trials and survivors of Eugenics policies.
Interviews were conducted in 52 different countries with approximately 3,000 of those interviews in Canada, 34 of which were conducted in Hamilton. The Visual History Archive houses interviews from survivors as well as letters written by Holocaust victims in a variety of languages.
Bringing a collection of this sort to McMaster has been an ongoing effort since 2009, and to commemorate those efforts, a launch event was held on Nov. 3 in CIBC Hall. The event saw prominent speakers from the McMaster, Hamilton and the Jewish community.
Notable speakers included University president Patrick Deane, University librarian Jeff Trzeciack, Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina, the Consul General for the Republic of Croatia, and the president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, as well as Lustig himself, who served as a strong driving force behind the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Visual History Archive.
Many of the speakers drew on their own experiences, emphasizing the impact of the Holocaust within Hamilton and the obligation to preserve the individual stories of each survivor.
Mayor Bob Bratina spoke of his journey to his grandfather’s home town where he learned of how the Holocaust swept through the town, taking with it some of his own ancestors.
Lustig, who was met with a standing ovation following his speech, explained the gruelling experience he endured during the Holocaust as a preteen boy, and how it led him to embark on a career in film and create the Visual History Archive.
Lustig sees his efforts as his way of giving back to the people he sadly left behind during his traumatic experiences in the concentration camps. “I do my best to fulfill my promise to these people in Auchwitz,” he said, after explaining his tumultuous experience being shunted between concentration camps around Europe.
From such experiences, and the Archive’s letters and interviews, history is made. Although written in different languages, it is these pieces of history that compose, outline, and chronicle humanity’s greatest example of unquestionable vileness and wretchedness.
And yet within each paragraph, each sentence, and each letter, comes the hope of eventual unity and peace that transgresses any boundary, any language, or any culture.