On a soundstage in Los Angeles, an 82-year-old native of Romania who lost most of her family to the Third Reich and came out of Auschwitz alive, sits in front of a bank of bright lights and video cameras discussing her experiences in the Holocaust.
The recording of wartime memories of aging survivors is not new, but the technology employed by the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, and the school’s Institute of Creative Technologies and Conscience Display, is.
Eva Kor’s interview is slated to appear eventually in holographic form, using advanced speech recognition, natural language recognition and audio triggers to allow future viewers to interact with interviewees like Kor by asking questions that the survivors, no longer alive, will be able to answer in recorded fashion.
On the eve of Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust commemoration day that this year is observed on Thursday, May 5, the imperative to preserve — in innovative ways for an emerging wired, apps-savvy generation — the recollections of the survivors, whose numbers are quickly decreasing, is concurrently increasing.
One survivor dies in Israel every hour, a demographer estimated a few years ago. Today, the youngest survivors are in their 80s. Some, especially in Israel and Eastern Europe, live in near-poverty conditions. Others are wealthy, lauded shmattes-to-riches stories. All have stories that will disappear when they die, unless various institutions — from the Shoah Foundation, to schools that sponsor the survivors as speakers this time of year, to groups like the March of the Living, which invite survivors to accompany teens on missions to Poland to act as living resources, to museums and publishers and documentarians that give the survivors’ stories permanence; and to newspapers like this one — step in. (See stories on page 1 and 20 about two Americans who were honored as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem.)
In New York City, the Jewish community’s yearly Gathering of Remembrance, sponsored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, and the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, will take place on Sunday, May1 at Temple Emanu-El.
The need to stress the impact of 20th-century genocidal intolerance becomes more evident every day, as nations like Turkey continue to deny the slaughter of at least a million Armenians that occurred a century ago, public opinion polls indicate a growing rate of anti-Semitism in many European countries, Arab and Muslim leaders deny or downplay the historical veracity of the Holocaust, and opponents of Israel and Arab politicians in Israel politicize it, comparing the Israeli “occupation” to Nazi atrocities.
As the emotional impact of the Shoah fades and as the survivors and liberators disappear, new approaches to reaching the post-post-Holocaust generations, like Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” forum that fosters conversations with survivors, are required.
The new interactive project of the Shoah Foundation — which already houses more than 50,000 video testimonies — is a good example.
The interviews being recorded by the Shoah Foundation will be interactive; more than 2,000 possible questions, in multiple variations, which future viewers are likely to ask were crowdsourced.
Kor, who founded an organization for fellow forced participants in Dr. Josef Mengele’s gruesome Auschwitz experiments on pairs of twins, “will be answering questions about what happened to her,” the pcmag.com website reported, “long after she’s left us in the physical realm.”