USC Shoah Foundation – the Institute for Visual History and Education has appointed Dr. Robert J. Williams as the new Andrew J. and Erna Finci Viterbi Executive Director. The institute also announced that Joel Citron has been named Chair of the Board of Councilors.
Steven Spielberg established the Shoah Foundation in 1994, shortly after the release of his Academy Award-winning film “Schindler’s List.” In 2006, it became a part of USC. The institute’s crown jewel is the Visual History Archive (VHA), a digital library of testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Nanjing Massacre and more. The VHA collection includes 55,000 video testimonies gathered in 43 languages from 65 countries. In addition to the VHA, the institute also engages in global education, outreach and research, showcasing its resources in six different continents. At USC, it hosts lectures, events and conducts programs for students, faculty and staff.
The mothers of both Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse and Councilmember Lester Friedman have contributed their experiences to the VHA.
Robert J. Williams most recently served as the Deputy Director of International Affairs for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). He first joined the USHMM in 2008 as a researcher but eventually went on to help create the office of International Affairs. While there, he played an advisory role to several intergovernmental organizations, forming relationships with policymakers and elected officials across Europe, Israel and more. Williams has also been a longstanding U.S. Delegate to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, where he is a senior member of the Global Taskforce Against Holocaust Distortion and chair of the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial.
Williams is excited to apply his decades of experience to his new role at USC Shoah Foundation. “A lot of very, very solid work has been done on the educational front by Shoah Foundation. Over the years, a lot of technological innovation has taken place there, through holograms and various ways to engage with the testimony, to keep the hopes and aspirations of the survivors alive,” Williams told the Courier. “The trick is continuing to expand that footprint to ensure sustainability and fortunately, there’s a really strong foundation for doing that. Both in terms of the resources at hand, staff expertise and the great team there.”
Williams believes USC Shoah Foundation’s work is more important now than ever. To him, preserving the voices and experiences of these victims can nurture a more accepting future. “The most recent set of incidents, and the attention being paid to known hate groups who are trying to profit off of unfortunate public statements, is actually, in a strange way, showing that there’s an opportunity for our better angels to peek on through,” said Williams. “Shoah Foundation, because of its subject matter expertise and providing education in various environments, is a really proactive organization. So, it can be in the process of anticipating these moments and really providing people with the resources necessary to recognize the dangers of hatred, know how to respond to it and inform others of the consequences when you let these forms of hate go unchecked.”
On Oct. 31, Williams will start his new position, taking over for the interim administration led by Dr. Kori Street.
Citron is currently a member of USC’s search committee and has been the USC Shoah Foundation Board of Counselors Vice Chair for the past three years. The counselors serve as an advisory board to the institute. As chair, Citron will be in charge of leading the board through meetings and helping members align their time and talent with the needs of the institute. He has an incredibly close connection to USC Shoah Foundation because both of his parents and an aunt have given testimonies for the VHA. “I feel the mission of the Institute is really part of every fiber of my being,” Citron told USC News. “It’s my parents, and it’s my community. It is very, very important to me to do the best I possibly can.”
Citron is succeeding Lee Liberman, who will take an emeritus role after over two decades with the institute.