Both memory and history are important to understanding the past

Both memory and history are important to understanding the past

Special to the Rice News

“We live in a genocidal world,” Douglas Greenberg, president and chief executive officer of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, told Rice students, faculty, staff and other guests during a lecture on campus Feb. 10.

During the presentation, titled “Henry’s Harmonica: Memory and History in a Genocidal World,” Greenberg used testimony from the Shoah Foundation archives to examine genocide and the intersection of personal memory and history.

“Relying on memory or history alone is too easy,” Greenberg said. “Each can mislead us. To try and understand [an event] you must be aware of both the memory and the history. One is not complete without the other.”

To illustrate this point, Greenberg introduced the testimony of “Henry,” who was a Jewish teenager during the Holocaust. Henry’s story is one of survival by chance and shows the random selection of who did and did not survive. After the viewing of Henry’s story, Greenberg told the audience, “History cannot open up the real horror of the [Holocaust] for us; only a survivor can do that.”

A goal of 50,000 testimonies was set when the Shoah Foundation first opened its doors in 1994. Since then more than 52,000 testimonies from Jewish survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution have been collected. The collection represents approximately 90 percent of the total survivors.

More than six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, but not everyone was silenced. “Hitler did not silence Henry or the other survivors despite the intolerable cruelty he put them through,” Greenberg said. “Today their voices are being heard, even if there’s only a small percentage of stories to be told.” The number of stories may be small, he said, but they are important.

During a question-and-answer period at the end of the lecture, one audience member asked Greenberg if archiving the testimonials was worth it, since genocide continues to happen.

“Genocide does not occur all at once,” Greenberg said. “It occurs one person at a time. This is the same as the world; we cannot expect to change the minds of the whole world, but one person at a time. This is why the Shoah Foundation is so important.”

Recorded in 32 languages and 56 countries, the Shoah Foundation archive contains approximately 117,000 hours of videotaped eyewitness testimony from 52,000 Holocaust survivors and observers. The foundation estimates that once made available to the public, the archive will be the largest publicly available database in the world.

Rice is one of three institutions — along with Yale and the University of Southern California — that are participating in a pilot project to explore the scholarly uses of the foundation’s digital video archive in its research and instruction programs.

Rice staff and faculty who want to access the archive can visit <>. Faculty members who are interested in using the Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive for future courses or research projects can contact the foundation at <>.

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