In the early days of Remember.org, I went out seeking content to share on this new thing called the Internet. That’s where I met Lani Silver (1948-2009).
Since most of the organizations housing the essential interviews and content about the Holocaust were run by Jewish organizations, trying something new and not knowing me or my background was a big challenge.
Not for Lani Silver. She welcomed me to the Oral History Project, and upon hearing the story of what I was beginning in 1993, she introduced me to her project.
She told me about rock impresario Bill Graham founded it. However, I later learned while he did help it out immensely, the founder was Lani.
And she was generous as she was gracious. She immediately shared videos with me and gained permission from the survivors to share it on Remember.org:
Those transcriptions I did and shared with her formed the early foundation of this site. I am not only grateful; Lani’s example was one that I’ve found time and again in sharing stories of survival.
People are willing to help and share so students and teachers can gain access to these critical experiences. Her generosity is hopefully extended here as well, as we’ve never charged anyone to share their content and share it worldwide with people so that we all remember.
Remembering Lani Silver
Lani Silver was a professor of political science and women’s studies at San Francisco State University. She was also a social activist for many years and many causes.
In 1981, she founded the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project, which collected and preserved the stories of Holocaust survivors. The project eventually grew to include over 1,700 interviews.
Silver’s work with the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project was groundbreaking. It was one of the first projects to collect and preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors.
Scholars, educators, and filmmakers have used the project’s work to learn more about the Holocaust.
Here’s some background for all who haven’t had the privilege to meet Ms. Silver, a guiding force in collecting firsthand stories of survival and hardship.
Her journey began in 1985 when she told The Chronicle that these recordings were more than just historical accounts; they were deeply emotional reunions.
“Sometimes the survivors haven’t even told their own children. And when they do, the whole room breaks down. And yes, that includes me,” she said.
For over a decade, Ms. Silver cultivated her solo venture into an army of passionate individuals—interviewers, photographers, and transcribers alike. She was the project’s beating heart until 1997.
Her expertise didn’t go unnoticed. Spielberg consulted her for his oral history mission, the Shoah Foundation. She trained 500 interviewers for Spielberg’s initiative, which now holds tens of thousands of irreplaceable interviews.
But her work didn’t stop at collecting stories; she unearthed heroes lost to time, like Chiune Sugihara, Japan’s consul general in Lithuania during WWII, who saved thousands by handwriting visas.
He died quietly in Japan, but not before Ms. Silver breathed new life into his story. She not only memorialized him in Tokyo but coined him “the Japanese Schindler.” She cemented his legacy through workshops, exhibits, and even an opera.
In 2000, Ms. Silver shifted her focus, not her passion—directing the James Byrd Jr. Racism Oral History Project. Interviewing 2,500 Americans, she peeled back the layers of everyday racism and its painful scars left on ordinary lives.
“Most of us have a standard job or freelance career. Silver’s “job” was working as a passionate activist with a breathtaking list of passionate and important causes.
She even listed her occupation on Facebook as an activist. Her range was from the political battles of the day (women’s issues, liberal politics and campaigns, gay rights and gay marriage, Media Alliance and Jeff Perlman, Obama, Jeff Adachi) to the unconventional (founding the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History project and later a racism project growing out of the case of James Byrd Jr., who in 1998 was chained to a truck by three white supremacists and dragged to death in Jasper, Texas.) …
Two of Silver’s latest and last passions were the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (where she was an ever passionate board member) and the Chauncey Bailey Investigative Project (where she was a founding member and ever passionate participant).
The Chauncey project was a media coalition that has had much success and fame in investigating the 2007 murder of Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey while investigating the finances of Your Black Muslim Bakery.”
LANI SILVER Teacher, Oral Historian, Activist 1948 – 2009 by Bruce Bruggman
Ms. Silver’s origins are traced back to Lynn, Mass., but her family moved to San Francisco when she was two months old.
“She was the dinner table philosopher, always provoking thought,” her sister Lynne Jacobs noted.
And a trip to Soweto at 19 sparked the activist in her. From then on, she was not just an observer but a participant—taking her nieces and nephews to political rallies and attending protests even when her own life was hanging by a thread.
She was a lifetime learner—earning degrees from the University of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, and the University of Chicago. She lent her voice as a freelance writer and producer for over 30 years.
Lynne said it best,
“From that moment in Soweto, she was an activist.”
An activist, an educator, but most of all, a friend to countless survivors and a beacon for stories that needed to be told.
In addition to her work with the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project and the Shoah Foundation, Silver also worked with several other organizations dedicated to Holocaust education and remembrance.
She was a founding member of the Racism Project and the James Byrd Jr. Racism Oral History Project. She also served on the board of directors of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Women’s Archive.
Silver’s work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the American Jewish Committee’s Human Relations Award and the National Women’s History Month Award. She was also named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the Bay Area” by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Lani Silver was a remarkable woman who significantly impacted the world. Her work to preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors has helped to ensure that their experiences will never be forgotten.
She was a tireless advocate for tolerance and understanding, and her legacy will continue to inspire others for many years.
Here are some additional details about Lani Silver’s work:
- She worked with the Bay Area Holocaust Oral History Project for over 20 years.
- She trained over 500 interviewers for the project.
- She helped to develop the project’s curriculum and educational materials.
- She spoke at schools and conferences around the world about the Holocaust.
Her work to preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors has helped to ensure that their experiences will never be forgotten.
Her presence vibrates through her extensive work, challenging us to confront uncomfortable truths. While she may not be here, her vision for a just world endures.
Thank you, Ms. Silver, for your relentless curiosity, activism, and invaluable friendships formed through your work.
Your legacy isn’t just in the stories collected but in the hearts and minds touched and opened.