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Survivors on Schindler's List

Jeffrey Shandler, Author

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NOTE: This Scalar project includes a text-only essay, “Holocaust Survivors on Schindler’s List; or, Reading a Digital Archive against the Grain,” which is available as a downloadable PDF here. The essay begins with a discussion of archives of videotaped interviews with Holocaust survivors generally and then addresses the value of reading one such collection, the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (VHA), “against the grain.” This introduction precedes a case study, which analyzes how survivors discuss the 1993 film Schindler’s List in the course of their interviews for the VHA. This Scalar project complements the essay by foregrounding the interviews with Holocaust survivors discussing the film and by providing supplementary information, images, videos, and website links on the history of recording Holocaust survivors’ narratives and on the epiphenomena surrounding Schindler’s List. Readers can start with either the Scalar project or the essay.
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Most people today encounter the Holocaust through some kind of mediation: a book, film, class, travel, museum exhibition, or other work or activity. Within these many forms engaging the Holocaust, the recollections of survivors—offered in written memoirs, live presentations, or filmed interviews—are widely regarded as providing firsthand accounts of wartime experiences with unrivaled directness, as memories at their most immediate.

However, all of these presentations of survivors’ accounts of their past are shaped both by the individual act of remembering and by the medium, protocols, forum, and context in which these accounts are created and encountered. Mediation is inherent in remembering the Holocaust—even for survivors—and understanding how it informs works of Holocaust remembrance is vital to appreciating their value.  Indeed, some Holocaust survivors attest to relying on other mediations for an understanding of their own past.

Dorit Whiteman, who had fled her native Austria before the start of the war, recalls that she first became aware of the “real, full extent” of the Holocaust in a movie theater in the United States, where she saw a newsreel containing footage of conditions recently liberated concentration camps.  Harriet Solz, who had worked in a factory owned by Oskar Schindler during the war, remembers questioning her own recollections of her wartime experiences after reading Thomas Keneally's book Schindlers List (originally titled Schindler’s Ark), when it was published in 1982.
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