Second site Spielberg's survivors

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The Independent Culture
"I USED to `disappear' myself between people all the time," says Paula in her video testimony, recalling how she blended into crowds to avoid being selected. "The people in the camp didn't feel comfortable with me around, because when I used to disappear myself, they were in jeopardy." If she escaped notice, the selectors' attention would fall on somebody else. "I learned to survive," Paula concludes, with a survivor's helpless smile.

The tormented features of Paula's childhood face can be seen in a photograph which, like her, survived Auschwitz, and appears within a montage of Holocaust images telling her story, a chapter for each year of the Second World War. Three other individual histories are also presented in Survivors: Testimonies of the Holocaust (Knowledge Adventure, Windows and Mac, pounds 25).

There is flame-haired Silvia, glittering with anger, who performed at a theatre in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Enforced segregation concentrated a wealth of talent in this one venue. It became a hot ticket: non-Jews had to borrow Jewish identity cards to attend. Eventually, the theatre was converted into a gateway for deporting Jews to the "final solution".

There is also Sol, originally from Czechoslovakia. He describes how, on one of the death marches inflicted on captives as the Nazis' grip began to fail, his uncle's strength evaporated. Despite his uncle's pleas, Sol kept marching. His father also needed his help. His uncle was shot; his father survived the march, but died of typhus after liberation. Bert, from Germany, faced a similar decision. Those who could walk, including Bert, were separated from those who could not leave the camp. Among them was Bert's father, who implored him to stay. Bert left. His father perished, like all those who remained behind.

Although they add up to 80 minutes of video footage, these testimonies are only a tiny fragment of the 100,000 hours of tape gathered so far by Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Spielberg set up this body after making Schindler's List, to record the stories of people who had actually participated in the episode that he dramatised. Gypsies, homosexuals and other victims of the Nazi project are represented, as well as Jews. To date, 50,000 of these witnesses have been videotaped.

How does one make good use or sense of all this information? Claude Lanzmann, the director of Shoah, used the material he gathered to demand proper seriousness from his audience by challenging them to watch nine hours of documentary footage. Although this CD-ROM does not have the awesome power that Lanzmann's unblinking camera achieved, the presentation encourages due gravity by means of cross-referencing, which is what computer discs do best. Following each video sequence, links show photographs or give concise historical information. The texts are comprehensive, detailed, well-written, and make no attempt to dumb down. Following Paula's testimony, for example, the viewer is prompted to read about how children fared in ghettos. We are told that they were vulnerable because they lacked value as workers, and that if their relatives were deported, they had to beg for food from other residents; or steal it.

Potential purchasers shouldn't be put off by the billing on the box, which says that the disc is "hosted" by Leonardo DiCaprio and Winona Ryder. Thankfully, they are not a Holocaust Richard and Judy, but simply narrators. They do a decent job helping this CD-ROM play to the strength of the genre, which lies in the provision of context for these profoundly understated testimonies.

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