From Eyewitness to iWitness

JUN 11, 2021

Source: Times of Israel 


Many educators and entrepreneurs are now looking to technology to provide new and compelling ways to connect with youth about the Holocaust. They hope to counteract the fact that more and more young people have either not heard of the Holocaust, or aren’t sure what it is or, worse still, believe vicious lies about it.

For example, the Shoah Foundation, established by filmmaker Steven Spielberg to preserve the stories of the victims of the Holocaust and other genocides, has been creating interactive two- and three-dimensional testimonies of survivors. The goal is to have true holograms that can appear in classrooms or museums, tell their stories, and answer the most common questions.

In quite another form of historical re-creation, Israeli tech entrepreneur Mati Kochavi and his daughter, Maya, have created a series of 70 Instagram stories that chronicle the experience of Eva Heyman, a 13-year-old Jew whose diary chronicled the 1944 German invasion of Hungary. She herself was taken to Auschwitz, where she died. The Instagram version of her account features the hashtags and emojis used by many 21st-century teenagers. An actor portrays Heyman wearing 1940s clothes and takes selfies in a park. She sends emojis to a boy she has a crush on.

Yet another variation is the Courtroom 600 project at the University of Connecticut, a 3D interactive virtual reality experience under development that places users inside the courtroom at the Nuremberg trials where top Nazis and collaborators were tried after the war.

Clearly, it is only a matter of time before we are offered an immersive simulation of life in a concentration camp. Gut reactions to this, and other high-tech approaches to Holocaust education can, with good reason, be both extremely positive and negative. The possibilities are worth investigating, but only with extreme caution. Will such an experience finally give people a way to “truly know” what it was like to experience these atrocities? No, not at all. No matter how realistic, the students who have this virtual experience will not actually be starved, exhausted, or disease-ridden. Their internal organs will not be failing, no one they know will have died. So no, it won’t be just like the real thing.

All these and other possibilities for new technologies to continue the work survivors pioneered must be studied scientifically. There is just too little evidence to prove or disprove the beneficial and adverse effects of high-tech approaches to Holocaust education. We must move beyond taking sides as “tech enthusiasts” or “technophobes” and become much more knowledgeable about what such technology can and cannot do — including what it can and cannot do over an extended period and to people at different ages.

Read more at The Times of Israel.

Updated: Jun. 21, 2021