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Memory

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It takes a lot of memory to remember the Holocaust. Archivists at USC are using eight petabytes. Look it up. It's a mountain.

They're taking interviews of nearly 52 thousand people videotaped in the U.S. and Europe and converting the analog voices and faces to digital format. Analog videotape degenerates over time, so that's the only way to keep the stories from being written in water, to paraphrase John Keats.

The Shoah Foundation's hauling 15 thousand videotapes from an East Coast storage facility to its offices a couple of blocks from the University of Southern California. The foundation says it'll take five years to finish the job. One of their archivists is Georgiana Gomez, a Mexican American Air Force brat who studied film at Chapman College and who counts a 1970s movie theater viewing of Fiddler on the Roof in Dayton, Ohio as a teenager as a watershed moment in her life.

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It opened a window to the Jewish world. The film sparked an interest to tell stories through film. She was three months old when she saw her first movie. She doesn't remember whether it was a sleeper or a weepie. After living abroad for years, both sides of her family ended up in the blue-collar lowlands of Wilmington.

Gomez is one of a handful of people bearing witness to the Holocaust. She's an archivist monitoring the sound and picture quality of videotapes on their path from analog to digital. She looks for video glitches and off-mic voices. But she's far from a detached technician.

The stories of parent-child separation touch her the most. One stands out. An octogenarian remembers being in a packed railroad cattle car as a little girl. The faces are a blur. She clearly remembers seeing wisps of some kind of material atop barbed wire through the slats. Were they strips of cloth? Were they branches? The girl later found out these were remnants of human hair on electrified wires. The only thing left of death camp prisoners who threw themselves onto the wires knowing that death would be a guaranteed escape from the horrors inside the concentration camp.

Georgiana Gomez has logged more than 50 hours of videotape. There's lots more. She keeps an eye on the quality of the blues and reds, the quality of the voices in broken English and foreign languages. The best she can do is listen.

Visit the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for more information.

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