Eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust believed to be lost forever may soon be
restored, according to experts at the University of Southern California’s Shoah
The foundation, following the completion of a multi-year
effort to digitize its archive of 52,000 Holocaust testimonies, is now beginning
the process of digitally restoring the approximately 5 percent of tapes that it
previously thought were irretrievable.
Between 1994 and 1999, the
foundation’s staff interviewed tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors and
eyewitnesses on analog tapes, which have since begun to degrade.
January, after the foundation’s Information Technology Services department
finished its efforts to digitize them, it began looking for ways to fix those
tapes that it had not been able to digitize successfully.
damaged tapes (4,754 interviews) have audio and/or visual problems that require
additional fixing. 60 tapes (from 52 interviews) cannot be restored,” the
foundation said in September.
The difficulty of digitizing the damaged
tapes has led the foundation to develop new video restoration techniques,
explained Ryan Fenton-Strauss, the foundation’s video archivist and
“It seemed terribly unfortunate that after a
survivor had lived through the Holocaust and poured his or her heart into a
testimony, that parts of it would be lost due to a technical problem during the
recording process,” Fenton-Strauss said in a statement.
through pictures of his daughter on photo-sharing service Picasa, he noticed
that the site’s facial recognition software was able to detect his daughter’s
face in different stages, from infancy until today.
“I realized then that
if we could automate the process of identifying the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ images
using image recognition software, then we could correct some of our most
difficult video problems,” he said.
After tracking down more powerful
facial recognition software, the archivist began the process of turning the
videos into a series of still photos for processing.
A 30-minute video
will “break down into 50,000 individual frames and 100,000 sub-frame fields,”
Fenton- Strauss told technology blog Gizmodo. “Once you’ve got a series of
pictures, you can identify the ones where there is no recognizable face. The
first idea I had was if you simply drop all the stuff that’s bad and borrow the
previous image; after filling it in, you would then sync back up with the audio
and be able to watch the video. You’re sacrificing some resolution, essentially
just isolating the good parts of the signal. By filling in the rest, it would
play as a video.”
However, by using an advanced pattern recognition
program, he was then able to “automate the search for patterns in bad images,”
“There were survivors who managed to come out of the Holocaust
and tell their story and, for some reason, it didn’t get captured,” he told the
tech site. “It’s my job to make sure that we do the best we can for them – in
fact, it’s an obligation, as we’ve been entrusted with these
This is not USC’s first foray into hi-tech approaches to the
In February the university announced that it would begin
developing interactive, three-dimensional holograms of survivor testimonies.
Participating survivors will sit in a room whose walls are covered with cameras
and LED lighting and tell their personal stories while the cameras record them
from all angles.
Later, the plan is to integrate the holograms with
“natural language technology” similar to the iPhone’s personal assistant Siri or
the Android platform’s Google Now, “which will allow people to engage with the
testimonies conversationally by asking questions that trigger relevant, spoken
responses,” according to the university’s Institute for Creative Technologies.