Technology brings images of Holocaust survivors to life
Their recollections will live after they are gone
DALLAS — Max Glauben was 17 and had already lost his mother, father and brother at the hands of the Nazis when U.S. troops rescued him while he was on a death march from one German concentration camp to another.
The recollections of the Dallas resident who as a Jew in Poland survived the Warsaw Ghetto and Nazi concentration camps are now being preserved in a way that will allow generations to come to ask his image questions. Glauben, who turns 91 today, is the latest Holocaust survivor recorded in such a way by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. The Los Angeles-based foundation has recorded 18 interactive testimonies with Holocaust survivors over the last several years, and executive director Stephen Smith says they’re in a “race against time” as they work to add more, seeking both a diversity in experiences and testimonies in a variety of languages.
“I thought that my knowledge could cure the hatred and the bigotry and the killings in this world if somebody can listen to my story, my testimony, and be educated even after I’m gone,” Glauben said.
Smith says that while the foundation founded in 1994 by film director Steven Spielberg has about 55,000 audiovisual testimonies about genocides in dozens of languages — the majority from the Holocaust — the interactive tech-
nology stands out for allowing museumgoers to have a dialogue with survivors.
“It’s your questions that are being answered,” Smith said, adding that the replies, especially on weighty issues like forgiveness can be especially poignant. He says, “You actually see sometimes them struggling to know what to answer.”
So far, the foundation has Holocaust survivors speaking in English, Hebrew and Spanish, and the group hopes to get people speaking in even more languages.
“It’s so powerful when it’s in your mother tongue and you’re looking the person in the eye and you are hearing nuanced language coming back that’s your own language,” Smith said.
For more than a year now, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center has featured the survivors’ images in a special theater. Museum CEO Susan Abrams says that when visitors interact with the images, the impact is often obvious: “People get teary; people laugh.”
“Our audience comes to feel that they know these survivors somewhat intimately because they’re having small group conversation, and in that moment, pretty much everything else fades away,” Abrams said.
The Illinois museum is one of four currently featuring the images. Other museums are in Houston, Indiana and New York. The Holocaust museum in Dallas will start showing them starting in September, after it opens in a new location and with a new name — the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum.
The Dallas museum currently brings in survivors to talk to students and has found that’s often the most meaningful part of their visit, according to President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins. This technology ensures that can continue, she said.
“Our survivors are aging, and so in 20 years we won’t have any survivors who are still able to do that themselves,” she said.
Smith said the images can appear on a flat screen or be projected in a way that appears to be three-dimensional. Like Illinois, Dallas is building a special theater so the image will appear three-dimensional on a stage.
Smith said the technology involved is simpler than many people think.
“It’s actually video that responds to human voice commands,” he said. “And all that’s happening is rather than you watching a linear testimony, all the bits of the testimony are broken up, and then when you ask it a question it finds that piece of video and plays it for you.”
JT Buzanga, assistant curator at the Holocaust Museum Houston, said the uniqueness of the interactive testimonies gives visitors a reason to return.
“It’s something that makes the connection that people want to remember and want to come back,” Buzanga said.
Glauben, who has made it his mission to tell people about the Holocaust, helped found the Dallas museum. He says that after he lost his family, he told himself he would “do anything possible to educate the people and let them know what kind of tragedy this was.” he saw kids with strengths that couldn’t be measured on a standardized test, who grew up hunting and fishing and were great with their hands, but felt stifled in the classroom setting.
“These same kids that I saw were brilliant, and they were super smart with their hands,” Rutiz said. “I would hire them as my crew in the summer . . . and they were better than everyone I could find, because there were no bad habits. You showed them once, twice how to do something, and they got it.”
Rutiz started teaching building and construction at the school and began building classrooms with the kids. He recalled their first classroom blessing, and how a couple hundred people showed up and walked around with their mouths agape at what the students had done.
“Things changed from that moment on, seeing the pride and success in the eyes of the kids, and just the awe in the community,” Rutiz said.
Around the nonprofit’s third year, one of the students in the program lost his home to a fire. The next day at school, the kids said, “We could build braddah a house,” said Rutiz, who was skeptical at first. But he worked with the students to design a small cottage. They called local suppliers and got 95 percent of the materials donated.
“The day after Thanksgiving, 50 people showed up on Friday morning in the pouring rain, and in the most amazing, chaotic, crazy wonderful threeday period, the kids manifested this cottage,” Rutiz said.
After three straight days of rain and hard work, the family was ready to move in.
“It was just chicken skin the way it was a whole community effort led by the kids and the power of their decision, of them wanting to get involved and the confidence in themselves that they could do this,” Rutiz said.
Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike has since expanded to include the Mahele Farm program, a 10acre project of homegrown food that is shared with the community, and the Malama Haloa program, which is focused on kalo and helping families bring loi back to East Maui.
Rutiz said Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike “doesn’t exist” if not for his wife, Kirsten Whatley, “the sole grant writer, the artist, the newsletter, the book producer.”
“Basically, Rick got to dance around and do what he loves, which is teach, without doing the things that an executive director is supposed to do, because Kirsten was in the background doing them,” Rutiz said. “She put aside 19 years of her writing career to make Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike what it is.”
Whatley, a journalist, author and Southern California native, met Rutiz in 2001, and the couple married in 2005.
“He needed a grant writer, and he got a package deal,” Whatley said.
She added that the most rewarding part of the program has been seeing the students they mentored now leading the program and bringing their own children to be a part of it, “which is a testament to our age, I guess.”
“It’s pretty incredible to see what we seeded turn into this giant flowering, now fruiting tree with so many arms, so many hearts, just so many passionate people all kind of expressing their own visions of the different directions it can go,” Whatley said.
Rutiz said Kahaleuahi will serve as deputy director until July. He added that while the program helps a lot of at-risk kids who struggle in the classroom, Kahaleuahi was the opposite. She was a straight-A student and “a very high achiever from Day 1” who loved the hands-on artistic work that Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike did. She came back to Hana hoping to make a difference in the community.
Program graduates make up the majority of the nonprofit’s 16 teachers, including James Freudenberg-Pu, a 2006 Hana High School graduate and the building program manager. Freudenberg-Pu was 14 when he joined Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike. Reading and writing were not his forte, but he was gifted at working with his hands.
“Sitting in the classroom, I felt like I wasn’t as capable, I wasn’t as smart as everyone else,” he said. “But when I went to the building and construction class, I was like the leader of the class.”
As Freudenberg-Pu learned from Rutiz, his confidence grew. In his sophomore year, he began building a new home for his grandparents. Rutiz taught him how to draw up the blueprints and brought a crew around to help. FreudenbergPu worked every day after school and on weekends, and by his senior year, the home was complete.
Freudenberg-Pu is now a father of two and has been head of the building program for 10 years. He said he wants to continue doing things for the kupuna in the community and create more project-based learning opportunities with Hana School. Freudenberg-Pu said he appreciates everything Rutiz and Whatley have done for the community.
“I think what their biggest strength is, is having good relationships with people,” he said. “That’s what they’ve been trying to teach us . . . You maintain good relationships with people, and everything else will fall into place.”
Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected]
Holocaust survivor Fritzie Fritzshall stands in front of a hologram of herself in the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, Ill., in 2017. Highdefinition holographic interview recordings and voice recognition technology to enable Holocaust survivors to tell stories and respond to questions from the audience.
Lipoa Kahaleuahi (right), a graduate of Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike, instructs a student while pounding kalo in Hana in 2017. Kahaleuahi is poised to take over as executive director of the nonprofit once Rutiz retires in July.
Holocaust survivor Max Glauben is shown in 2018 sitting in an interactive green screen room while filming a piece for the Dallas Holocaust Museum. Glauben will be the latest to have his story recorded in such a way that generations to come will be able to ask his image questions. Glauben, who turns 91 today, had lost his mother, father and brother at the hands of the Nazis when U.S. troops rescued him while he was on a death march.