MELBOURNE’S Lee Liberman has been inaugurated as the new chair of the Board of Councillors to the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education, making her the foundation’s first chair to be based outside the United States.
Established by Steven Spielberg in 1994, one year after completing Schindler’s List, the foundation is dedicated to capturing and preserving audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Shoah and other genocides as a compelling voice for education and action.
Liberman, who is a publisher, editor and principal and chair of the Lee Liberman Foundation, has been involved with the USC Foundation for more than 20 years, and for the last 15 years has served as a board member.
“It’s a great honour but a humbling responsibility. I am very excited,” she enthused to The AJN.
Since its inception, the foundation has collected more than 55,000 Holocaust testimonies, and has one of largest digital collections of its kind in the world.
Liberman was inspired to get involved following an address by then-director, Michael Berenbaum when he visited Melbourne in 1998.
“I was so moved after Michael’s speech,” recounts Liberman, “that I just … said, What can I do? I’m here”.
While Liberman may not be the child of survivors, she reflected on the impact of the stories told by her aunt, Eva Slonim, an Auschwitz survivor. “As her eldest niece, I grew up with knowing what she went through,” she said.
Liberman also credits her Caulfield upbringing, where in the 1950s and ’60s, “almost every single person my age was the child of survivors. There was both this incredible life force with this underlying tragedy,” she recalled, adding, “That shapes who you are as a Jew in the world.”
Now, Liberman has her sights firmly set on ensuring the extensive testimonies of the foundation are used to teach about racism, intolerance and bigotry.
“In our current global climate and this new maelstrom of hate, we never believed we would be using our archive to teach about and help prevent identity-based hatred in our world today,” she said.
“This is fundamental to me, and we are starting very, very young … Our next set of programs that we’ve already begun is early childhood education. I’m really focused on that, because that’s where it begins.”
USC interim president Wanda Austin shares Liberman’s outlook.
“Lee’s vision, passion and experience working on three continents will help guide USC Shoah Foundation during a critical moment in world history, one in which preserving the memory of the Holocaust and countering hatreds, including antisemitism, are more important than ever,” she said.