To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Schindler’s List and the release of the newly-remastered Blu-Ray edition, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has partnered with the USC Shoah Foundation to create the IWitness Challenge, a video contest for middle and high school students that aims to bring the testimonies of Holocaust survivors into the classroom in new and engaging ways.
The Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education – was founded by Steven Spielberg as a result of his experiences making the film; he realized that there were thousands of survivors whose stories had not yet been heard, and that hearing their testimony was a vital part of preventing similar atrocities. (“Shoah” is a Hebrew word meaning “catastrophe” and the Jewish name for the Holocaust.) Since the Foundation’s establishment in 1994, they have recorded nearly 52,000 testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust from 56 countries and in 32 languages.
The IWitness section of the Shoah Foundation’s website, which is intended for middle and high school students, features over 1,300 video testimonies, all searchable by keyword for over 50 different subjects. To take part in the IWitness Challenge, students will watch one or more of the videos and take inspiration from the stories they hear to create a way to engage with their community, making the world a better place. Then they will create their own video essay, combining their own video footage with the testimonies that inspired their project, telling their own story of the action they took to improve their community.
Speaking at the Chandler School in Pasadena, Spielberg remarked, “I have always believed that acts of kindness do not always have to be random.” He went on to explain that “the best way to teach empathy is with examples of it,” and talked about the profound impact that making Schindler’s List had on his life and work. When he accepted the Best Picture Oscar in 1994, Spielberg mentioned that there were at the time over 350,000 Holocaust survivors who wanted to tell their stories in order to try to prevent such things from ever happening again. Twenty years later, the Shoah Foundation has had to expand its mission, collecting eyewitness testimonies of more recent genocides in places like Rwanda, Darfur, and Bosnia. The Foundation is also actively engaged in bringing their resources to the classroom as well as to the general public; the IWitness Challenge is just the latest version of their ongoing effort.
In addition to Spielberg’s comments, the presentation also included scenes from the film, excerpts from some of the testimonies collected by the Shoah Foundation, and videos created by three students from around Los Angeles, each of whom also spoke about their exploration of the IWitness site.
Schindler’s List was released for the first time on Blu-ray on March 5. Digitally restored in high-definition from the original film negative, the Blu-ray release will expose the film to a whole new generation of viewers. The Shoah Foundation hopes it will serve as an introduction and inspiration for young people to take positive action in their own communities.