Robert J. Williams is on a mission: to ensure that the memories of survivors and eyewitnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides have a permanent home, that they are widely shared and never forgotten.
Williams will bring a wealth of experience and focus to his new role as Finci-Viterbi Executive Director of the USC Shoah Foundation — Institute for Visual History and Education.
Williams most recently served as Deputy Director of International Affairs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C., and will begin his new role on October 31. He considers the USC Shoah Foundation one of the pillars of Holocaust research, with its unique mission to develop empathy, understanding and respect through testimony with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides.
“To know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve come from,” Williams said. “While the voices of our survivors will live on forever, we have reached a point where many will not be around in person to share their stories, so it is our responsibility to carry on and learn from the legacy of this story.”
USC President Carol L. Folt said, “Rob is a respected leader known for his talent, vision and compassion. He is just the man to ensure that this precious and irreplaceable archive of humanity will be protected and preserved forever. And he will draw on his experience at USHMM to ensure that the institute becomes even more accessible and impactful in the world.”
The work of the USC Shoah Foundation is more important and relevant now than ever.
Founder of the USC Shoah Foundation
“The work of the USC Shoah Foundation is more important and relevant now than ever – especially given the growing threats to democratic values that we see every day around the world,” said Steven Spielberg, founder of the USC Shoah Foundation. “I am deeply grateful that Rob is leading our organization and continuing our work to fulfill the sacred responsibility we have to survivors by ensuring that their testimonies live on forever.”
Joel Citron, the new chair of the USC Shoah Foundation’s Board of Advisors, looks forward to working with Williams’ global network of thought leaders, NGO leaders and government affairs experts. He is also pleased that Williams has an in-depth knowledge of the USC Shoah Foundation and is already collaborating with the staff. “I think it provides an opportunity for a great future,” Citron said.
Citron added that he was “impressed and grateful” for the way Folt focused on the importance of the USC Shoah Foundation at the university. “The foundation is coming into this time period not only with the ability to integrate and build community within USC, but beyond the university to a degree that I’m not sure we could have done before,” he said.
“We are so happy that Joel will be bringing his passion, dedication and leadership to the Institute.” Folt said. “I am grateful to Interim Executive Director Corey Street and all the hard working staff to expansion the global reach of this critical resource for current and future generations.”
Through his work at USHMM, Williams has already established a long-standing relationship with the institute, which has more than 55,000 video testimonies preserved in its visual history archive – one of the largest digital collections of its kind in the world.
The institute’s trained interviewers collected testimonies from 65 countries in 43 languages. Most include the personal story of the interviewee’s life before, during, and after their immediate experience of genocide. Scholars use the testimonies – most of which are about two hours long – to create books, articles, dissertations and multimedia presentations.
USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director: History student
Williams began his career at USHMM as a researcher in 2008. He has served as the US delegate to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and has also served on both the Steering Committee of the Global Task Force Against Holocaust Distortion and the Committee on Anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. His research specialties include German history, US and Russian foreign policy, propaganda and disinformation, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
The Holocaust is something that has been twisted and abused.
Robert J. WilliamsUSC Shoah Foundation
“The Holocaust is something that has been twisted and abused,” Williams said. “The reason they can distort and abuse the Holocaust as propaganda is because we, on the other side, haven’t done a good enough job of understanding history and talking to the global public.”
He believes that if a better job is done to educate and educate people about the subject, manipulation and propaganda will have less effect.
“This is a very important moment in the history of the Holocaust,” Williams said. “You have many of the same challenges we face today, including the encroachment of totalitarianism, refugee crises, mass atrocities and human rights abuses.”
Personal link to the USC Shoah Foundation Archives
Citron, CEO of Tenth Avenue Holdings, is a double Trojan alumnus who has a personal connection to the institute’s work: both his parents and an aunt survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, and their interviews are included in the archive.
“I feel like the mission of the foundation is really part of every fiber of my being,” he said. “These are my parents and this is my community. It’s very, very important to me to do the best I can.”
The institute was established in 1994 by director Spielberg after the production of Schindler’s List, his Oscar-winning film about a German industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust. The institute became part of USC in 2006.
In addition to its global reach, the USC Shoah Foundation plays an important role at the university, regularly organizing lectures, events and programs for students, faculty and staff. The institute’s Stronger Than Hate initiative engages the entire university community in efforts to promote inclusion, connection and support.
Folt said she was grateful to the search committee for their care and hard work throughout the process, and expressed her appreciation to the Board of Advisors for its outstanding efforts in maintaining the institute’s important momentum.
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