When Zhi Qiang Chang was nine years old, he watched as Japanese soldiers killed his mother, father and four of his siblings. He was able to save his 12-year-old sister, but he has carried the personal toll of that experience his entire life.
Chang participated in a panel at the USC Global Conference about the importance of capturing survivors’ stories. Leading academics and executives interested in ensuring those stories live on joined him for the event in Shanghai.
The USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive is dedicated to capturing the stories of survivors like Chang. Originally created to record the stories of Holocaust survivors, the program has been expanded to include other genocidal events such as the Nanjing Massacre.
These stories are an essential part of keeping the memories of these crimes against humanity alive and ensuring that they will persist for researchers and educational purposes for years to come.
“Hearing those people’s stories is incredibly important, and they will last long after we’re gone,” said Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal, who also participated in the panel and whose mother Edith provided her testimony to USC Shoah Foundation as a Holocaust survivor.
Meyer shared the experience of Steven Spielberg who was repeatedly approached by Holocaust survivors after releasing Schindler’s List because the movie stirred deep feelings and they wanted someone to hear their story. These experiences ultimately sowed the seeds for the USC Shoah Foundation’s mission to capture those stories.
“These stories hold deep personal meaning for the survivors and their families, and as they hear stories from other survivors – whether they’re from the Holocaust or Nanjing or another event – that story resonates on a very personal level,” said Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation. “As we make the survivors’ stories more widely available, the events become less isolated. We create a common link of experience and awareness.”
One common link runs through Shanghai. During the Nazi Persecution of Jews in the 1930’s, Shanghai accepted tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Europe. For many years the Holocaust survivors and the Nanjing survivors lived in close proximity to each other without knowing of the atrocities endured by each other.
As those common histories became known, they were shared and understood on a deeper, more personal level. Both communities were able to empathize with the other.This shared experience is the basis of a new documentary, “Two Sides of Survival.” The trailer for the film was premiered during the panel; the film will debut on December 13, the 76th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre. USC Trustee Ming Hsieh, who also participated in the panel, was a producer for the movie.
The USC Shoah Foundation collects testimonies such as these and ensures they are used for both comparative and specific research. The institute has innovated new ways to archive and integrate them into the education system.
Through the foundation’s iWitness platform, Chang’s story – along with dozens of other Nanjing survivors – will be used in classrooms in all 50 states for education purposes, as well as more than 50 universities around the world for education and research. Recent donations will help underwrite Chinese language versions that will make it accessible in schools and universities across China to ensure that these stories of survival are never lost and never forgotten.