Skip to Main Content

Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: VHA FAQs

Quick Links

Log In to the VHA Database - You will need to create a new account, this will not be your Clemson ID and Password.

University of Southern California Shoah Foundation

Email the Curator


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I currently search and view ALL testimonies in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive?
The Visual History Archive (VHA) allows users to search through and view nearly 52,000 audiovisual testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. These testimonies were conducted in 58 countries and in 34 languages.

In April 2013, the Visual History Archive expanded to include a collection of 65 audiovisual testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi genocide. Conducted in two countries (U.S.A. and Rwanda), and two languages (English and Kinyarwanda), this initial collection of 65 Rwandan testimonies was accomplished in collaboration with Aegis Trust and the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

In February 2014, 12 audiovisual testimonies of survivors of the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre were integrated into the VHA . These testimonies are in Mandarin and were conducted in Nanjing, China through a partnership with the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall.

In April 2015, the Visual History Archive integrated 60 audiovisual interviews of survivors and witnesses of the Armenian Genocide. The interviews were originally conducted by Dr. J. Michael Hagopian and recorded in 10 different countries, primarily in English and Armenian. Other interview languages include Arabic, Turkish, Spanish, Kurdish, German, French, Greek and Russian. The testimonies were integrated into the Archive in partnership with the Armenian Film Foundation.

2. What is the difference between the Visual History Archive (VHA) that is accessible onsite at institutions with full VHA access and the Visual History Archive Online (VHA Online) that is available to the public on the internet?
The VHA available onsite at full VHA access sites and the VHA Online that is available to the public on the internet are nearly identical search applications. Both the VHA and the VHA Online search the same cataloguing and indexing data associated with all of the nearly 52,000 testimonies in the archive. However, the VHA Online only allows viewing of a limited number of testimony videos, whereas the VHA at full access sites allows viewing of all testimony videos. Your user account and Projects created in the VHA Online will be available to you at any of the full VHA access sites, and vice versa.
3. What is a segment?A segment is a one-minute unit of a testimony in the VHA. Testimonies are divided into one-minute segments which can be retrieved by the end user through indexing term searches. Not every segment has indexing terms attached.

Please note: Some testimonies within this collection were indexed using segments that are longer than one minute. For these testimonies, the actual segment length can range from one minute to nine minutes. Each segment in these testimonies usually has multiple indexing terms.

4. Why do some segments have indexing terms and other segments have none?
Indexing terms are attached to one-minute segments when a topic is discussed or described in some detail. If the discussion or description spans several segments, the relevant indexing terms are usually applied once. Indexing terms may appear at the beginning of the discussion, in the middle of the discussion, or towards the end of a discussion. New indexing terms appear when the topic of conversation changes.

Please note: Some testimonies within this collection were indexed using segments that are longer than one minute. For these testimonies, the actual segment length can range from one minute to nine minutes. Each segment in these testimonies usually has multiple indexing terms.

5. Are there transcripts of the interviews?No. However, the interviews in the Visual History Archive have been fully catalogued and indexed, permitting researchers to perform detailed searches for relevant testimonies and segments of testimonies.
6. Does the Visual History Archive allow Boolean searches?AND searches and OR searches are possible in the Quick Search, Experience Group Search and Index Search.

Quick Search:
You can choose to perform an AND or OR search between multiple terms that you enter by selecting the radio button labeled All Words or Any Words respectively.

Experience Group Search:
You can choose between an AND and an OR search using the pull-down menu in the left frame when searching on more than one question. The left frame will display the # of results for each question individually as well as the result of your combined search.

Index Search:
You can choose between an AND and an OR search using the radio buttons between the Indexing Term Choices and Selected Indexing Terms boxes.

OR search:
The OR search retrieves segments that include at least one of your Selected Indexing Terms.

AND search:
The AND search retrieves segments that include all of your Selected Indexing Terms (up to 35 indexing terms).

Segment range:
The AND search also permits you to choose a Segment Range. It is possible to search for all Selected Indexing termsappearing in the same segment (i.e. 1 segment), within 5 (consecutive) segments, within 10 (consecutive) segments, within 15 (consecutive) segments or within the Entire testimony. The Search Results list will display segments in which one of your Selected Indexing terms appeared first. Once you go to the Viewing Screen you will be able to access and view all segments for that testimony.

NOT search:
The Visual History Archive does not accommodate a NOT search at the present time.

7. I can't see everything on the screen. What's wrong?This Visual History Archive is designed with a fixed page width of 1000 pixels. The height of pages in the VHA vary, but most pages have a height of approximately 700-800 pixels. Press F11 to maximize the screen.
8. Why do I see strange characters on some pages of the Visual History Archive?The Visual History Archive was updated to display certain diacritical modifiers used to transliterate Hebrew and/or Russian indexing terms and names of people. To display these diacritics properly in Internet Explorer, you will need to change the default encoding settings. Go the View menu, highlight Encoding, and then select Unicode (UTF-8) option and make sure that the Auto-Select option is deselected. You may have to repeat this procedure more than once before your browser retains this setting.
9. Why do I see the characters ` and ´ in personal names?´ is the transliterated character of the Hebrew character "alif". ` is the transliterated character of the Hebrew character "ayn".
10. I am getting too many results. How can I narrow them?In some cases you will retrieve more testimonies or segments than you can manage. You can narrow your search by limiting your results to a single language and/or gender, or by doing an AND search as described in the answer to question 5 above. Another option is to save your search results to Projects. Once you have saved your search results as a Project, you will have the option to filter any of the searches (Quick Search, Experience Group Search, Index Search, People Search, or Places Search) by the Project.
11. I cannot find a specific person I thought was born in a certain country. Why is this?In order to maintain consistency, the Shoah Foundation uses cataloguing guidelines based on historical boundaries. Some countries' borders and names changed after World War I and again after World War II. To keep the information in the archive historically accurate, the date of birth determines the country name catalogued for the country of birth.
For example: if a survivor states that he was born in Vienna in 1909, the country of birth is indexed as Austria-Hungary. Austria came into existence only after World War I.
12. Can I search for a person if I don't know exactly how to spell his or her name?The People Search in the Visual History Archive offers the option to perform a Beider-Morse Phonetic Matchingsearch on names to help find names that are phonetically similar but spelled differently. To enable Phonetic Matching, select the Phonetic Matching checkbox above the name entry fields.
For more information on the Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching system, please see
13. How can I search for a city name if I don't know how it was spelled during the prewar era?City names and other geographic locations, including ghettos, camps, administrative units (such as states or provinces), countries, etc., may be searched in the Index Search and in other searches using preferred terms or variant spellings. For example, today the prewar city Lwow is known as Lviv. Either spelling may be used to find the city name for your search, as well as several other variants. The Visual History Archive does not employ soundex, so you may need to try several different spellings to find the appropriate term.
14. What does it mean if the camp name I find has (u) in front of it?(u) means that the geographic location and/or resistance group could not be verified by the USC Shoah Foundation's research staff using the sources at hand.
15. What does it mean if the camp name I find has (generic) after it?(generic) indicates that more than one known location with the same name exists. When the indexer or researcher was unable to verify the specific location referenced in the testimony, a generic term was used, i.e, Jaworzno (Poland)(generic).
16. What does it mean when the status of a video shows "Viewable w/i 48 Hrs?"The status Viewable w/i 48 Hrs means that the testimony has been digitized but is not loaded on your institution’s local video cache/server. On the Viewing Screen, click on the Request Video button, and the system will transfer the testimony video from the USC Shoah Foundation’s central video storage location to your institution’s local video cache/server. This may take up to 48 hours, depending on how many video transfers are queued ahead of your request and on network "traffic".
17. What does it mean when the status of a video shows "Not Yet Viewable?"The status Not Yet Viewable means that the testimony has not been digitized and therefore cannot currently be viewed using the VHA. However, if the testimony has already been indexed, you will be able to see the indexing data associated with the testimony video.
18. How do Projects help me organize my searches?The Projects feature allows you to save search results and add notes describing those results. In addition, the Projectsfeature allows you to add, delete, copy, move, and export results as needed. You can return to your Projects at any time to view the testimonies or filter new searches on the testimonies or segments that have been saved. When you save results to an existing Project, they are appended to the existing Project, and do not replace its contents.
19. How do I obtain copies of whole testimonies or portions of testimonies?The USC Shoah Foundation makes copies of whole testimonies or portions of testimonies in certain instances: for interviewees and their family members, for institutions acquiring collections, for documentaries and exhibits, for secondary school teachers, and for students and educators at universities that have access to the VHA. If you are a student or educator at a university with access to the VHA, please consult your local reference staff for assistance. If you are not a student or educator at a university with access, please go to the USC Shoah Foundation’s website at for more information, or contact USC Shoah Foundation staff by email at or by phone at (213) 740-3756.

Visual History Archive Curator

Profile Photo
Anne Grant
Cooper Library
Room 405