The sad yet inevitable death of the last of the survivors of the Holocaust will be a tragic event, even for those who never had the opportunity to meet or speak with a survivor. It will also deny the world the most valuable resource of Holocaust information, commemoration and education: the authentic memories of the witnesses who were the victims of the unthinkable crime of the Holocaust and lived to bear witness and tell their stories. Filling the void left by this loss will not be easy, but it is critical that we do so to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust live on for future generations to come.
The challenges that the passing away of the last survivors will pose to those who engage in Holocaust education and remembrance are urgent, complicating the struggle to defend truth against lies and ignorance, to combat the resurgence of Holocaust trivialization and denial, and to address the problems in engaging and educating the younger generation.
According to the Claims Conference – which tracks and administers compensation and restitution claims for victims of Nazi persecution – one third of Americans don’t believe that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust, and two thirds of millennials have never heard of Auschwitz. Our responses to these challenges must be developed now, in the context of a coming post-survivor landscape, when new tools and methodologies will have to be deployed to combat these and other worrying trends in public awareness and acknowledgement.
We at Genesis Philanthropy Group believe that at least one of the challenges – the proliferation of the visual technology that fascinates today’s young people – offers a solution of its own. The rising generation tends to shy away from the study of yellowing documents and black-and-white photos and films, finding them boring and unconvincing, opting instead for engaging, interactive multimedia as optimum tools for learning. We must meet them where they are. Today, the cutting-edge technologies of 3D video recording and computer-enhanced interactivity allow us to do just that, by preserving the memories and experiences of survivors in a way that will enable future generations to not just read about them or watch them – but to experience them and to have dialogue with them firsthand.
With this goal in mind, we have chosen to partner with two pioneering efforts to collect and preserve such digital testimonies – one in the United Kingdom and one in the United States. In the U.K., we have assisted The National Holocaust Centre and Museum in completing the “Forever Project” of 3D recordings of Holocaust survivors, especially from those who were rescued by the legendary “Kindertransport,” which brought Jewish children to Britain from Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied countries. The Forever Project’s interactive capabilities are based on thousands of questions asked by current British schoolchildren learning about the Holocaust, and will serve in the future as a curated way to answer questions from future generations of schoolchildren in the U.K. and beyond.
Remembering and honoring the Jewish history of WWII means preserving for posterity the full experiences and stories of Holocaust survivors and, also, those of the 1.5 million Jewish warriors who fought against the Nazis in the Allied armies, partisan groups and the Resistance. This is why GPG has partnered with the USC Shoah Foundation, through its award-winning “Dimensions in Testimony” program, to create the first interactive biography of one of those Jewish heroes together with the testimony of a Russian-speaking Holocaust survivor from the former Soviet Union. Dimensions in Testimony’s revolutionary technology enables people to not only hear and see Holocaust survivors, but to ask them questions and get answers to any questions they pose, while “learning” from conversations with its audiences and becoming even more effective in its interactions with future generations.
Despite all these efforts, though, evidence shows that the scourge of antisemitism and Holocaust denial is increasing globally and will continue to plague humanity for the foreseeable future. To combat fake news, revisionist conspiracy theories, racism and prejudice, Holocaust education will continue to become even more necessary, but it must be up-to-date in order to remain relevant for those whom we seek to engage and educate. Using technology to keep precious memories alive from one generation to the next, we can ensure that the testimony of survivors lives on, that those who stand against this evil in years to come – Jews and Gentiles alike – will be able to rely on the same treasure of historical truth, and use it just as effectively, even when the last of the living witnesses of the tragedy and heroism of the Jewish people leave us.
Ilia Salita is president and CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group.