On July 28, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) awarded the 2010 Peter R. Weitz Journalism Prize for excellence and originality in U.S. reporting on Europe and the transatlantic relationship to Sarah Wildman for her five-piece series on the International Tracing Service (ITS), the world's largest Holocaust archive, published in Slate magazine. The award luncheon included a panel discussion featuring Wildman and Paul A. Shapiro,director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). Mike Abramowitz, a non-resident GMF fellow and director of the Committee on Conscience at the USHMM, moderated the discussion. Wildman opened the discussion by describing her personal struggle to understand the fate of a young German Jewish woman within the larger context of the field of Holocaust studies. She stressed the importance of ITS’ work, explaining that the archive provided “the only type of happy ending possible by offering closure…some idea of what happened to the people you remember….to give survivors and victims back their humanity, despite not having been able to save [them], but to have been able to save [their] words.” Shapiro drew on his experience of working since 2001 to open the ITS archives, chastising the 11 member countries that had made the archive once inaccessible to the public while highlighting bureaucratic and diplomatic hurdles to the archive’s development and operation. Like Wildman, he emphasized the archive’s significance, outlining four major areas of importance: the moral obligation to remember and honor the victims and inform their families, the scholarly value of the archive’s 16 miles of documents, the educational need to combat growing Holocaust-denial, and a reminder of how countries and institutions often ignore the needs of the powerless.
In a discussion following the presentation, Wildman talked about the enormous public response to her story, attributing the readers’ interest to the modern nature of her subject’s words. In addition, she addressed the skepticism and hostility many scholars felt toward the archive’s opening and the linguistic and logistical obstacles facing researchers. Shapiro elaborated on governments’ role in maintaining the archive and discussed the ongoing need to uncover or release other missing or closed archives. The Weitz Prize was established in 1999 in memory of Peter R. Weitz, former director of programs at GMF, for his interest in promoting coverage of European affairs by American journalists. While GMF has in the past offered two awards to distinguish junior reporters aged 35 and under from senior reporters, Wildman was the sole recipient of this year's prize.
To read Sarah Wildman’s winning series, please click here.