Shoah mem­ory lessons

Pre­par­ing for a post-sur­vivor age

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - NA­DINE WOJAKOVSKI

THE OLD lady sat down, the three books she had writ­ten neatly piled up on the ta­ble in front of her. The years five and six pupils of Naima JPS pri­mary school filed in qui­etly, tak­ing their seats on the chairs and floor. They looked on ex­pec­tantly and waited for Eva Schloss — fa­mously known as Anne Frank’s step­sis­ter — to start her talk.

The room fell silent and she be­gan. In her Ger­man ac­cent, the 86-year-old spoke clearly and ar­tic­u­lately about her life. She told them that she — Eva Geiringer — had been born in Vi­enna in 1929 and had fled to Bel­gium with her brother Heinz and their par­ents in 1938. There, they felt like un­wel­come refugees and so moved to Am­s­ter­dam in 1940.

Very soon af­ter­wards, her fam­ily went into hid­ing but were be­trayed and sent to Wester­bork Tran­sit Camp in Hol­land, and from there to Auschwitz con­cen­tra­tion camp.

She and her mother were lib­er­ated by the Soviet Army but her father and brother did not sur­vive. Years later, her mother mar­ried Anne Frank’s father, Otto.

The nine- and 10-year-olds lis­tened in­tently as Eva de­scribed the tragic life she had led as a girl not much older than them­selves, and told them how she’d had to painfully re­build her shat­tered life. The chil­dren were awestruck to hear about her beloved teenage brother, a poet and artist, who had painted in hid­ing. Years later, Eva and her mother lo­cated the can­vases, trig­ger­ing a flood of heart­break­ing mem­o­ries.

Af­ter the talk, as the chil­dren stood in line to get a signed copy of one of Eva’s books, they had the op­por­tu­nity to ask her more in­for­mal ques­tions. They were clearly moved by her pres­ence and wanted to know as much as time would al­low. One 10-year-old boy re­marked: “I had never heard of Eva Schloss be­fore to­day. But now I have met her I will never for­get her!”

But the im­pact of her visit, while sig­nif­i­cant now, is small com­pared to what it will be in years to come. The ex­pe­ri­ence is likely to make an in­deli­ble, life­long im­pres­sion that grows with time as the chil­dren turn into adults.

Th­ese chil­dren are the lucky ones — among the very last gen­er­a­tion to have the priv­i­lege of see­ing and hear­ing the eye-wit­ness tes­ti­mony of a con­cen­tra­tion-camp sur­vivor.

To­day, they are few and far be­tween. Mostly in their 80s and 90s, the num­bers are dwin­dling fast. Sadly, soon there will barely be any sur­vivors left to talk to the next gen­er­a­tion of 10-year-olds.

Yes, they have writ­ten books and left video tes­ti­monies but this is lit­tle com­pared to the real thing — see­ing them in body and soul — as they in­ter­act with their au­di­ences and share their heart­break­ing mem­o­ries.

But all is not lost. Thanks to ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, a few sur­vivors will “live on” to tell their sto­ries thought in­ter­ac­tive holo­grams.

A few days af­ter the school visit, Eva flew to Los An­ge­les to tell her story to the New Di­men­sions in Tes­ti­mony pro­ject at the Shoah Foun­da­tion, based at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. There, she was watched by more than 120 cam­eras on the In­sti­tute for Cre­ative Tech­nol­ogy’s 3D-cap­ture stage.

This will cre­ate a holo­graphic dis­play that makes it ap­pear as if she is in the room with the viewer.

The pro­gramme was pi­loted in 2014 by Holo­caust sur­vivor Pin­chas Gut­ter. Eva Schloss is just the sixth per­son to un­der­take this cut­tingedge in­ter­view, join­ing other sur­vivors, in­clud­ing Re­nee Fire­stone and Anita Lasker-Wall­fisch.

The USC’s Shoah Foun­da­tion — also known as The In­sti­tute for Vis­ual His­tory and Education — was founded in 1994 by Steven Spiel­berg and is ded­i­cated to mak­ing au­dio-vis­ual in­ter­views with sur­vivors and wit­nesses of the Holo­caust and other geno­cides. It houses nearly 53,000 au­dio-vis­ual tes­ti­monies con­ducted in 63 coun­tries and in 39 lan­guages.

Eva was in­ter­viewed over five long days and made to wear the same clothes each time, so it looked as if the in­ter­view had been con­ducted in one go. Dur­ing this time, Shoah Foun­da­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Stephen Smith asked her over 1,000 ques­tions about her life be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the Holo­caust.

“They asked me about my whole life, about all my ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Eva. “About my fam­ily, cop­ing, my feel­ings, for­give­ness, ha­tred, the Nazis, the size of the camps, the trans­ports. They asked me about the fu­ture — what I think will hap­pen. They asked me what­ever you can imag­ine.”

On an­other day, she spent her time mak­ing 40 dif­fer­ent fa­cial ex­pres­sions — such as sad, happy, fu­ri­ous, frown­ing, en­quir­ing, laugh­ing, sus­pi­cious. Th­ese ex­pres­sions would be care­fully matched to her an­swers. “It was tech­ni­cally quite amaz­ing,” she said. She be­lieves it will stand the test of time and be of great ben­e­fit to those wish­ing to learn about the Holo­caust in 50 years’ time.

The sys­tem uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence — or “nat­u­ral lan­guage tech­nol­ogy”, to find the most ap­pro­pri­ate an­swer avail­able to a ques­tion be­ing asked, en­abling a kind of di­a­logue to take place. “Al­though she has over a thou­sand an­swers on record, she can in fact an­swer many

The world is lucky that we can record th­ese sto­ries for the fu­ture

thou­sands of ques­tions,” ex­plained Smith. He says they are as ready as they can be for the fu­ture. “We have planned far enough ahead and now have the data in hand to use in a vir­tual-re­al­ity con­text. This means that, over the next few years, as the tech­nol­ogy fur­ther de­vel­ops, Eva’s story will be more in­ter­ac­tive and im­mer­sive. The world is in­cred­i­bly lucky that the tech­nol­ogy ex­ists in time, to record the last sur­vivors’ tes­ti­monies in this way.”

The holo­grams will be ini­tially ac­ces­si­ble in mu­se­ums, and even­tu­ally through a school plat­form — I Wit­ness — as an in­ter­ac­tive pro­gramme.

Closer to home, the Na­tional Holo­caust Cen­tre and Mu­seum in Not­ting­hamshire (founded by Stephen Smith and his fam­ily) is fol­low­ing suit. Work­ing very closely with the Shoah Foun­da­tion, their in­ter­ac­tive tes­ti­mony pro­ject is called Telling Their Story to

the World.

Film­ing since last year, they have in­ter­viewed sur­vivors Steven Frank, Rudi Op­pen­heimer, Ja­nine Web­ber, Martin Stern, Joan Sal­ter, Arek Hersh, Re­nee Salt and Steven Men­dels­son, with Kitty Hart Moxon due next. They want to in­ter­view more sur­vivors but that de­pends upon fund­ing. Fol­low­ing tests and tri­als, the mu­seum says it hopes it will be ready for the pub­lic and schools this spring.

While the tech­nol­ogy is keep­ing the tes­ti­monies alive for­ever, this must still be sup­ported by more con­ven­tional education in the class­room. In Eng­land, chil­dren are taught about the Holo­caust within Key Stage three His­tory, as part of the na­tional cur­ricu­lum. This usu­ally oc­curs in year nine, for 13- and 14-year-olds. How­ever, many Jewish schools in­tro­duce the Holo­caust at pri­mary level. Eli­sheva Si­mon, a Holo­caust teacher at Naima JPS pri­mary school, has cus­tomised her own pro­gramme for the pupils.

In her in­ter­ac­tive lessons, she looks at se­lected aspects that the chil­dren can re­late to, in­clud­ing Kristall­nacht, the Kin­der­trans­port, Anne Frank, and right­eous gen­tiles who risked their lives to save Jews.

She is es­pe­cially con­scious that the chil­dren should have a solid foun­da­tion in Holo­caust education be­fore they move to high school.

“But it is the im­pact of bring­ing in sur­vivors for the chil­dren to meet that can­not be over­es­ti­mated, and usu­ally ends up be­ing a high­light of the chil­dren’s year,” she says.

“If chil­dren can­not meet th­ese coura­geous sur­vivors in per­son, meet­ing them vir­tu­ally is the next best thing.”

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

PHOTO: GUS RUE­LAS/USC SHOAH FOUN­DA­TION

Saved: Eva Schloss sits in a vir­tual re­al­ity stu­dio to record her tale of sur­vival, which she re­counts to pupils, below

PHOTO: GUS RUE­LAS/USC SHOAH FOUN­DA­TION

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