Holocaust survivor Tovah Feder’s life story could easily become a thriller series on Netflix. When she was eight and a half, she impersonated the daughter of a German officer who was killed in the war and used false documents to board a train taking leading Nazi officers, including Adolf Eichmann, to Hungary.
On Sunday, Feder will tell her story at a Memory in the Living Room (Zikaron Basalon) ceremony, and it will also reach school students in Israel through WhatsApp.
To spread the survival story, Hasdei Naomi, an association that gives aid to Holocaust survivors, connected intelligence officer cadets to MKs with the idea of developing special technology that will help preserve Feder’s story for generations.
In the hackathon, the cadets succeeded in turning Feder’s story into a WhatsApp conversation that is based on advanced artificial intelligence.
After the application’s development was finished, they turned to the Education Ministry with the request to dedicate a unique history class to Feder’s story in schools through the one thing that youths like to do most – communicate over WhatsApp.
How do you get youth in Israel in 2023 to remember the Holocaust?
To answer that question, the cadets contacted Hasdei Naomi and asked them to dedicate the hackathon to developing an educational initiative that would “speak to the younger generation in its language.”
The Knesset referred them to the story of Feder and suggested that the AI-based initiative be dedicated to a Holocaust survivor who survived against all odds.
On April 16, two days before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Knesset will hold a special ceremony during which Feder will tell them how a girl who was only four when the Holocaust began survived. She will tell her story to MKs and hundreds of young people who will go to the Knesset for an especially emotional memorial ceremony.
What is Tovah Feder's story?
“I remember we were in a shelter at the beginning of the war,” she said. “We were told the men had to run away because they were being taken away to work but that the Germans were nice to women. My father ran away, and we moved to my grandmother’s house in Lodz. Two or three weeks after we got to Grandma’s, a man came in with torn clothes and frightened eyes. We all looked at him to understand who he was, and then I realized that it was my father. That’s how we remembered the beginning of the war.”
Feder, who came from a Gur Hassidic family, believes that her survival story is a miracle and God watched out for her. During the Holocaust, a smuggler was supposed to transfer her and her three-year-old brother to Budapest until he got cold feet and left the two siblings in the garden of a Jewish study room.
“I found a girl that I liked the look of who spoke German,” said Feder. “I went over to her and asked her in German where the synagogue was because I knew a bit of the language. It turned out this woman was Jewish. She put us in an orphanage. We were under the radar for months.”
Later, the children made it to Budapest and then the Germans took the city. They escaped from there and then later returned on the train.
“We rode in the German officers’ carriage because the woman who took us was pretending to be a German officer’s widow and we were meant to be her kids,” Feder said. “At one of the stops, a large group of officers boarded led by none other than Adolf Eichmann. I didn’t know that, I didn’t understand who he was at all. I was scared.”
She added that Eichmann stroked her face when he thought she was a German orphan.
The cadets received this information together with many hours of witness pages that Feder gave Yad Vashem, and throughout the development marathon they began to create the chat app that was based on AI.
“We, as a group of young officers in intelligence, feel that it was a privilege to develop something special like this,” said the officer who led the project. “We looked for a way to tell the story of Holocaust survivors in an interactive, interesting and innovative way that would make the person in front of the chat want to read more and more of the personal story of a Holocaust survivor.
"We, as a group of young officers in intelligence, feel that it was a privilege to develop something special like this."The cadets
The cadets’ commander said it’s a big privilege to command the cyber officers’ course with good quality and talented cadets who took part in projects with great social influence.
“The investment of much time and energy of the cadets for the sake of characterizing a significant need that will provide a response to a social or public gap and developing a sustainable solution are worth the price and us giving up on another tour or another lesson,” the commander said.
Knesset Chairman Amir Ohana said that for the first time ever, students will be asked to use their mobile phones during school time to “chat” with Tovah and learn her life story.
“This way, they not only learn but also take an active part in preserving the memory of the Holocaust and stories of courage,” he said.
“Innovative and groundbreaking cooperation like the one of the Knesset, Hasdei Naomi, the IDF and the Education Ministry is the way we will defeat anyone who tries to deny the atrocities of the Holocaust, and we will uphold a moral duty to remember and never forget.
“Following the success of the project, the Knesset turned to the Education Ministry asking to reveal the initiative to Israel’s students, and the ministry was excited and happily agreed.”
Hasdei Naomi supports more than 100,000 Israelis through a logistical fleet that delivers food and emergency equipment to 45 locations nationwide, including thousands of Holocaust survivors, said the association’s chairman Rabbi Yosef Cohen.
“In the last few years, when we get to survivors, they tell us about their concern that the history will be forgotten, and we do our best to promise that the memories survive. We thank the [Unit] 8200 cadets for developing the first GPT chat of Holocaust memories in the world, the training system in the IDF, the Knesset, the Education Ministry and all the participants.”