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Her honors thesis takes her to the United States Holocaust Museum

Diana Galperin ’08 (Warminster, Pa.), an international affairs and French double major, is studying the relationship between partisans (members of the resistance movement) and civilians in the Soviet Union during World War II. It is a project inspired by her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor and former partisan member.

“The partisans brought the danger of brutal reprisals with them, but they also represented a means by which civilians could support forces fighting against fascism,” explains Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history and Galperin’s thesis adviser. “Diana is attempting to determine the various ways in which civilians and partisans interacted during the war.”

Galperin decided that her grandmother’s story and other oral histories from survivors would be the most effective means of research.

“I knew that oral histories would be important for my research, however, it is often difficult to find and schedule interviews with World War II survivors. This is what led me to D.C.,” Galperin explains.

At the United States Holocaust Museum, Galperin had full access to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. Established by Steven Speilberg in 1994 after making Schindler’s List, this non-profit organization aims to create and archive videotaped testimonies of all remaining Holocaust survivors.

“My grandmother had done an interview for the Shoah foundation years ago,” explains Galperin. “Because of this project, she showed my family and me, for the first time, the video that she had made with the foundation. After seeing it, I thought that it would be great if I could see videos of other individuals and that it would be a great way for me to obtain the oral histories that I need.”

Galperin had access to more than 50,000 videotaped interviews of survivors from around the world. The videos are shot by trained volunteers and cover not only the individual’s life during the war, but also before and after. Each video is between two and three hours in length.

“This archival work is not only crucial for Diana’s thesis project, but it is an important step in her development as a scholar,” Sanborn says. “Archival work is to the historian what lab work is to many scientists. It is simply difficult to imagine high level research without it, and it requires specialized skills and habits to perform it effectively. Our best students need exposure to the archives in order to properly complete a true capstone experience.”

As Galperin learns about the complexities in the partisan-civilian relationship during the war, she believes that much of what she is learning can be applied to today’s current affairs.

“Today, insurgents are prevalent in many parts of the world,” she explains. “The nature of insurgency groups makes them dependent on civilians. Thus, understanding the nature of the partisan-civilian relationship in World War II can aid our understanding of insurgent groups and their relationship with civilians today.”

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