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Using the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive: Home

USC Shoah Foundation Overview

USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education is dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides, a compelling voice for education and action. The Institute’s current collection of 51,696 eyewitness testimonies contained within its Visual History Archive preserves history as told by the people who lived it, and lived through it. Housed at the University of Southern California, within the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Institute works with partners around the world to advance scholarship and research, to provide resources and online tools for educators, and to disseminate the testimonies for educational purposes.

For more information, visit the Institute’s website, http://sfi.usc.edu/.

About the Visual History Archive

Quick Facts:
53,000+ testimonies in the archive
40 languages represented from 63 countries
105,000 hours of testimony
235,005 master video tapes

Who Was Interviewed?
Jewish survivors, homosexual survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, survivors of Eugenics policies, and war crimes trials participants.  The Visual History Archive has been expanded to include testimonies from the Armenian Genocide, the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in China, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the Guatemalan Genocide of 1978-1996.

What is a Video History Testamony?
The purpose of oral history testimony is not only to gather facts, but also to gain a deeper understanding of events as they were lived and filtered through personal reflection. Unlike most documentation from this period - written by the perpetrators – oral testimony gives a voice to the survivors and other witnesses, allowing them to speak directly about their personal experiences. The USC Shoah Foundation testimonies are unedited, primary sources of information. Each interview consists of a single survivor or other witness speaking about his or her life before, during, and after the war, guided by questions from a trained interviewer. The interviews average two and a half hours in length.

What are the Subjects Discussed in the Testamonies?
Among the main subjects discussed in the interviews are geographical locations, prominent figures, names of family members and other people, prewar Jewish life, religious practice, cultural life, acts of persecution and prejudice, camps and ghettos, deportations, massacres, means of adaptation or survival, resistance, rescue and aid efforts, and postwar emigration and immigration.
In most interviews, photographs, documents, and artifacts pertaining to the interviewee’s family and wartime experiences were displayed at the end of the interview. Literary and musical works performed and often composed by the interviewees themselves are included in some interviews; original works of art are also displayed on camera. Walking tours, in which a portion of the interview is conducted in the open air at sites such as former concentration camps, ghettos, mass graves, or prewar family homes, are a feature of some interviews.

How is the Archive indexed?
The archive is indexed using a controlled vocabulary, the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Thesaurus, of over 50,000 index terms. These index terms include geographical locations and time periods (e.g. “Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia,” “Germany 1941”), as well as location names (e.g. “Auschwitz [Poland: Concentration Camp]”) and experiences (e.g. “identity concealment,” “psychological distress prevention”). The names of the 1.2 million individuals mentioned in each testimony are also indexed and searchable.


For each testimony, a brief biographical profile has been created drawing primarily from a Pre-Interview Questionnaire. This questionnaire recorded information about the interviewee’s birthplace, family members, religious affiliation, ghetto and concentration camp experiences, and resistance activities among other things. This data is searchable in the Biographical Search in the VHA and is displayed in the Biographical Profiles in the VHA’s search results. For further information about this biographical profile indexing methodology, please see the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Cataloguing Guidelines.


Each video testimony has been indexed by assigning indexing terms to the relevant one-minute segments of each testimony. This permits users to perform detailed searches—on names, places, time periods, and a huge array of subjects and experiences—both on a testimony level and on a segment level. For further information about this indexing methodology, please see the USC Shoah Foundation Institute’s Indexing Guidelines.

What are the System Requirements?

Windows 7/8 +
Internet Explorer 9 +
Firefox 25 +
Google Chrome 12 +

Mac OS X 10.6 +
Safari 5.1.1 +
Firefox 25 +
Google Chrome 12 +

Visitors to Drexel

Members of the public may request appointments to use the Visual History Archive in the W.W. Hagerty Library during regular visitor hours. These are generally Monday-Friday 7:30AM-5PM, except during exam periods and holidays. For details: https://www.library.drexel.edu/affiliates-and-visitors


In order to best accommodate appointments, request should be made at least one week in advance (study rooms book up quickly). We will coordinate a study room reservation and loan a laptop. Requests can be made by email to circulat@drexel.edu


As many Archive testimonies must be downloaded in advance, when making the appointment request please specify the Interview Code of any testimonies you will wish to view. See the Visitors to Drexel and Off-Campus Users section of the Search the Archive page for instructions on locating the code.

Subject Guide

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Larry Milliken
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