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Photo by: Courtesy USC
USC projects Holocaust survivors as holograms
By SAM SOKOL
15/02/2013
"New Dimensions in Testimony" aimed at helping future generations converse with survivors after they are gone.
 
Schoolchildren and students of the Holocaust will soon be able to access the testimony of survivors, even after they have passed on, in the form of interactive, three-dimensional holograms courtesy of a new initiative of the University of Southern California.

The project, “New Dimensions in Testimony,” focuses on recording and displaying “testimony in a way that will continue the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners far into the future,” according to the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.



The institute is collaborating with the University’s Shoah Foundation and private technology company Conscience Display.

Participating survivors sit in a room whose walls are covered with cameras and LED lighting and tell their personal stories while being recorded from all angles.

Later, the holograms are integrated with “natural language technology” similar to the iPhone’s personal assistant Siri or the Android platform’s Google Now, “which will allow people to engage with the testimonies conversationally by asking questions that trigger relevant, spoken responses,” USC said.

“Years from now, long after the last survivor has passed on, the New Dimensions in Testimony project can provide a path to enable young people to listen to a survivor and ask their own questions directly, encouraging them, each in their own way, to reflect on the deep and meaningful consequences of the Holocaust.”

In a video of a “classroom concept” posted by USC on YouTube, a holographic projection of survivor Pinchas Gutter can be seen answering questions by students.

“My name is Pinchas Gutter. I will answer any questions you might have for me,” he began.

Asked how old Gutter was when the war ended, the holographic setup automatically begins playing the testsubject’s response.

“I was between the ages of 13 and 14 when the war ended in 1945,” the hologram states.

Afterward, in response to another question, the projection of Gutter begins to sing a Polish lullaby that his mother had sung to him before the war.

This program is not the first such undertaking coming out of USC.

American-Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg and the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education compiled over 50,000 testimonies from the world’s dwindling population of Holocaust survivors, the videos of which are available through memorials like Yad Vashem.

However, speaking to technology website Cnet on Monday, USC professor Paul Debevec said the effect that a three dimensional hologram gives exceeds the experience of watching a video of a person who was filmed some time ago somewhere else, adding that the timing of this project is of the essence.

“I think it’s going to be considerably more engaging and immersive and moving than if they’re just up there on a video screen,” he said. “We lose many of our survivors every year. We definitely feel the sense of urgency and that realistically it’s going to be now or never.”

In 2008, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev said the urgency to hear the life stories from survivors is great, as time is running out and many do not know the history.

“The testimony of the survivors who personally experienced the horrors of the Shoah, are the legacy that they impart to us. Their testimony has crucial educational and moral importance... This is essential in an era where the generation of Holocaust survivors is dwindling and the demand for knowledge in these areas is growing.”
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