New technology lets Holocaust survivors tell their stories anytime

(RNS) — David Schaecter is 93 years old and his time is running out.

For the past 60 years, he has devoted himself to telling the story of his struggle to survive at Auschwitz, his escape and how he pieced together his life in America after losing his entire family in the Holocaust.

As International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked on Friday (January 27), Schechter knows his days of travel and in-person testimony will soon be over.

So this week he agreed to document his life story for a week using a new technology that will allow future generations to interact with his hologram-style likeness.

The story will form the basis for an exhibit at Boston’s future Museum of the Holocaust, which is scheduled to open in 2025.

“All children, especially Jewish children, need to know who they are, what they are and what’s going on,” Schechter said during a lunch break during filming in the Miami studio. “I’m the one who wants to tell them what happened.”

Produced by the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimonies project, the technology records Holocaust survivors’ responses to approximately 1,000 questions in a single video clip. Later, using natural language techniques, programmers converted each answer into a search term. In a museum or classroom setting, people can ask questions of 2D life-size images of survivors and see and hear their responses in real time.

Schaecter is the 62nd Holocaust survivor to receive an interactive presentation of the marathon recordings. As the number of survivors able to share their stories dwindles, the technology offers museums and schools a way to remember the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their allies.

Jody Kipnis, co-founder of a Holocaust museum in Boston, said she and her partner, Todd Ruderman, were at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educational Center in Skokie. The center experienced this holographic technology for the first time.

“We knew we wanted that show, we knew we wanted David,” she said. “It’s as close as talking to a Holocaust survivor after the survivor has left.”

Since the technology first became available 10 years ago, 14 Holocaust museums, including 11 in the United States, have used interactive technology to feature exhibits on survivors.

related: 16 objects from Germany tell the story of the Holocaust in new ways

Schaecter is a veteran of storytelling. He was one of the founders of the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial Museum and spent countless hours meeting with elementary, high school and college students to tell them about his life.

Jody Kipnis (left) with Holocaust survivor David Schaecter.Photo courtesy of Jody Kipnis

Jody Kipnis (left) with Holocaust survivor David Schaecter.Photo courtesy of Jody Kipnis

When Schaecter was 11 years old, he was taken from his home in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz in Poland with his mother, two younger sisters and an older brother. Upon arrival, he was separated from his mother and sisters and never saw them again. He and his brother spent 18 months in Auschwitz before being transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, where he spent another two years, where his brother was also arrested. kill. While the Germans cleared the camp, Schachter escaped from the train. He arrived in the United States in 1950 and earned a degree in industrial engineering at UCLA.

In 2018, Kipnis and Rudman accompanied Schachter back to Auschwitz. After returning, the couple founded the Holocaust Heritage Foundation. Last year, they purchased a building along Boston’s historic Freedom Trail, where they plan to build a 30,000-square-foot museum.

Schaecter’s testimony will be the centerpiece, but it will include other interactive experiences.

“David inspired us to build this museum,” Kipnis said. “We stood in front of his bunker. 8, and he said to us: ‘Listen to me, listen to me, be my voice, tell my story.'”

For Schaecter, who lost so much, the new technology is an opportunity to testify on behalf of the approximately 1.5 million children under the age of 12 who perished in the Holocaust and never had a chance to speak.

“The 1.5 million neshamot,” he said, using the Hebrew plural for “soul,” “need to be remembered.”

related: Teaching teachers about the Holocaust and its lessons for today’s democracies

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