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Tracing the trajectories of Schindler’s List

Genocide survivors are among keynote panelists at USC Shoah Foundation conference

Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg,
Schindler’s List will be screened Nov. 16 at the USC Norris Cinema Theatre. (Photo/David James, Universal Pictures)

A survivor of the Holocaust who was saved by Oskar Schindler. A child survivor of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. The creator of an award-winning documentary about the Armenian Genocide. A member of the Brussels Parliament who bridged a divide between Muslim and Jewish lawmakers.

Each has an incredible story and powerful message to share, and each will do so as a member of the keynote panel at the upcoming international conference “Memory, Media and Technology: Exploring the Trajectories of Schindler’s List.”

The conference, organized by the USC Shoah Foundation’s Center for Advanced Genocide Research, will be held Nov. 16-18 at the Radisson Hotel at USC. Acknowledging the 20th anniversary of Schindler’s List and the founding of USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education, housed in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the conference will explore the transformative legacy of the Academy Award-winning film and the founding of the institute.

The conference’s first day of panel and roundtable discussions on Nov. 16 concludes in the evening with a screening at the USC Norris Cinema Theatre of the 1993 movie helmed by USC Shoah Foundation founder Steven Spielberg, who won an Oscar as best director.

The conference resumes on Nov. 17 and 18 at the hotel with more panel and roundtable discussions featuring leading scholars from a broad range of disciplines, institutions and countries, designed to advance new practices in teaching, learning and research around digital scholarship, genocide education and cultural literacy.

All events are free and open to the public. Seating is limited, but an RSVP is required.

An ethical dilemma

One theme of the keynote panel discussion centers on the ethical dilemma that often confronts people during the lead-up to mass violence: Go with the flow in the interest of self-preservation or do the right thing at great potential cost. 

The common thread connecting the four keynote panelists — who will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 17 — is that they, like Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist upon whose true story the film was based, at some point in their lives have found themselves at a crossroads.

Carla Garapedian bluntly makes the case in a 2006 documentary that genocides still occur in the 21st century “because those who perpetrated them in the 20th century got away with it.”

“They could go along with the program or they could act,” said Dan Leshem, associate director of research at the center. “It wouldn’t be easy — they would be pushing against the grain — but they recognized an opportunity to intervene and they did not shy away.”

    • Carla Garapedian is a filmmaker whose documentary Screamers about the Armenian Genocide — and Turkey’s lasting denial of the atrocities committed a century ago — won the American Film Institute’s Audience Award for best documentary. A former anchor at BBC World News, Garapedian bluntly makes the case in the 2006 film that genocides still occur in the 21st century “because those who perpetrated them in the 20th century got away with it.” Garapedian sits on the board of directors of the Armenian Film Foundation. The group’s videotaped testimonies of nearly 400 Armenian Genocide survivors are being integrated into USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive.
    • Viviane Teitelbaum Hirsch is a lawmaker in Belgium, a nation whose leadership is so fractious that Muslim and Jewish members of Parliament in recent years have even avoided riding in elevators together. One of just three Jewish legislators in the Brussels Parliament, Hirsch broke the stalemate by forming a coalition with a Muslim lawmaker. She has also taken an aggressive stand in recent years against an alarming surge in anti-Semitism throughout Europe.

Yannick Tona was just 4 years old when much of his family — including his grandmother and 1-year-old brother — perished in the Rwandan Genocide. He managed to survive the mass violence that claimed up to a million lives in 100 days. At age 12, Tona resolved not to hate the perpetrators — and to make a difference. Today, at 24, he is among Rwanda’s most outspoken ambassadors of peace. A student at Texas Christian University, Tona travels the world to give talks to students about his experience, imparting the message that countering mass hatred begins with the individual.
    • Celina Biniaz was the youngest woman on Oscar Schindler’s list. She, along with all the women at Schindler’s factory, was inadvertently sent to Auschwitz when he moved his enamelware factory from Krakow to Brunnlitz. Biniaz remained at Auschwitz for a time while Schindler fought for her freedom. At Auschwitz, Biniaz came face-to-face with the notorious Nazi physician Josef Mengele, who coldly made an on-the-spot determination that she would be suitable to live. Biniaz long ago made the choice to speak publicly about her experience, and over the years has visited many schools to advocate for reconciliation and tolerance.

History of USC Shoah Foundation

While filming Schindler’s List in Poland in 1993, Spielberg was approached on location by many Holocaust survivors who implored Spielberg to tell their story. Those encounters led Spielberg to establish a nonprofit organization to capture at least 50,000 testimonies worldwide on video. Thus began the Shoah Foundation, which became part of USC in 2006.

Now in its 20th year, USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education has collected more than 53,000 testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides.

With the testimonies forever preserved in the Visual History Archive, the institute now uses this extraordinary primary resource — the largest of its kind in the world — as the heart of what’s become a leading hub for genocide education and research.

This spring, the institute launched its Center for Advanced Genocide Research to serve as its research and scholarship unit, building off the substantial academic work the institute has accomplished since joining USC in 2006. The upcoming event is the center’s inaugural conference.

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Tracing the trajectories of Schindler’s List

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