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The Holocaust Center forms partnership with USC Shoah Foundation


October 9, 2020

The Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida announced via a webinar held Oct. 1, that it has partnered with USC Shoah Foundation - The Institute for Visual History and Education to be a content and creative partner in the development of the new Holocaust museum to be located in downtown Orlando. This marks the first time USC Shoah Foundation, a world leader in testimony-based research, education and interactive experiences, has teamed with a Holocaust museum to design, develop and implement a ground-up and permanent museum-wide exhibition.

The webinar began with video footage of Stephen Spielberg on set in Auschwitz filming "Schindler's List." He shared that as he stood on the grounds of Auschwitz he hauntingly realized that "at a different point in time, I more than likely would have been killed too."

Many Holocaust survivors approached him on set and he spoke with all of them. He would ask each one how they survived. One woman answered, "it was a miracle." He realized there were so many stories to be told. That's how the Shoah Foundation began - "it was my wanting to continue Schindler's list," he said.

The USC Shoah Foundation team, led by Finci-Viterbi executive director and UNESCO chairman on Genocide Education Dr. Stephen Smith, is working with the Holocaust Center on a uniquely immersive museum experience, which will bridge the insight needed to question the past and foresight to impact the future. Ralph Applebaum Associates, a multidisciplinary firm specializing in the planning and design of museums and exhibits, serves as the lead exhibition designer. Ralph Applebaum Associates has been commissioned for more than 700 design projects in over 40 countries.

"This is an incredibly smart, powerful and prestigious partnership that benefits from the expertise, experience and shared vision of USC Shoah Foundation," said Pamela Kancher, executive director of The Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida. "Their expertise in working and connecting with millions of students, teachers, and scholars worldwide elevates the impact of this project."

Also speaking in the webinar were Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

"Orlando has shown itself to be a community that cares about human rights and justice, which is why building this new museum and welcoming the USC Shoah Foundation partnership is both important and appropriate," said Dyer. "Our city will now play an even greater role in righting the wrongs of the past and contributing to a kinder world."

"This partnership will continue to teach important lessons from history and in ways that engage and remain memorable. That's how we change the future," said Demings.

The USC Shoah Foundation develops empathy, understanding and respect through testimony, using its Visual History Archive of more than 55,000 video interviews with Holocaust Survivors and other witnesses to genocide, award-winning IWitness education program, and the Center for Advanced Genocide Research. Smith stated that the testimonies were gathered from 56 countries and in 32 languages.

USC Shoah Foundation's interactive programming, research and materials are accessed in museums and universities, cited by government leaders and NGOs, used by media organizations, and taught in classrooms around the world. Now in its third decade, USC Shoah Foundation reaches millions of people on six continents from its home at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California.

"This creative collaboration with USC Shoah Foundation reflects our common commitment to integrating testimony and storytelling into the heart of our new museum and programs," explained Kancher. "It is a significant and long-term partnership intended to ensure that stories of those who survived the Holocaust are accessible and continue to inspire students, and all of our visitors, to be more empathetic, stand up to bullying and demonstrate a greater sense of social responsibility."

The Holocaust Center announced in January 2018 that it would be establishing its new museum in downtown Orlando, expanding its space from its current 7,000 square feet to an estimated 40,000 square feet.

"We are excited to work with the Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center of Florida to conceptualize groundbreaking experiences that inspire visitors living in and visiting Orlando for years to come," said Smith in the webinar meeting.

"For the first time, the eyewitness accounts of the survivors will form the beating heart of a museum dedicated to sharing their stories," said Smith, who further explained that the museum is being built around these stories, "building from the stories outward," instead of telling the history of the Holocaust, concluding with the survivors' stories. "A recent study shows experiencing the stories of witnesses and survivors is one of the most effective ways to educate about the Holocaust," he noted.

A screenshot of the Center's webinar host Pam Kancher (top) and Dr. Stephen Smith of the USC Shoah Foundation.

The new museum will include innovative and interactive exhibits using existing and in-development exhibits from and by USC Shoah Foundation, including Dimensions in Testimony, recently profiled on CBS News' 60 Minutes. This pioneering project integrates adapted filming techniques, specialized display technologies and natural language processing to create an interactive biography. Dimensions in Testimony enables people to ask questions and receive real-time answers from video interviews with Holocaust survivors and other witnesses to genocide.

This strategic collaboration will raise the Center's profile on the world stage and empower its ability to fulfill its mission to use the history and lessons of the Holocaust to create a more just and caring community free of antisemitism and all forms of prejudice and bigotry.

Christine DeSouza contributed to this article.


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