As the horrific events of the Holocaust move further into the past and the remaining survivors of Nazi Germany’s reign of terror die off, one group is using a unique technology to keep their memories alive, allowing future generations to learn from the world’s mistakes during World War II.
Max Glauben was 17 and had already lost his mother, father and brother to the Nazis when American troops rescued him while he was on a death march from one German concentration camp to another, Fox News reports.
The Dallas resident’s memories of his survival in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland and Nazi concentration camps are now being preserved as holograms, to allow generations of people in the future to ask his image questions.
Mr Glauben, who celebrates his 91st birthday today, is the latest Holocaust survivor recorded as a hologram 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.
Mr Glauben said he thought the hologram project was a fantastic concept to preserve the stories of those who survived one of the most atrocious human rights violations in history.
“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,” Mr Glauben told the Associated Press.
The foundation’s executive director Stephen Smith said the production team is essentially in a “race against time” as they work to add more participants to the collection in a variety of languages.
He said while the organisation, founded in 1994 by film director Steven Spielberg (following on from his 1993 Oscar-winning World War II film Schindler’s List), has about 55,000 audiovisual testimonies about genocides in dozens of languages.
The majority are from the Holocaust, and the interactive technology stands out for allowing museum-goers to have a dialogue with survivors.
“It’s your questions that are being answered,” Mr Smith said, adding that the replies, especially on weighty issues like forgiveness, can be especially poignant.
He said: “You actually see sometimes them struggling to know what to answer.”
So far, the foundation has recorded 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,” Mr Smith said.
For more than a year now, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Centre has featured the survivors’ images in a special theatre.
Museum CEO Susan Abrams said 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,” Ms Abrams said.
“And in that moment, pretty much everything else fades away.”
The images can appear on a flat screen or be projected in a way that makes them look three-dimensional.
Like Illinois, Dallas is building a special theatre so “the image will appear three-dimensional on a stage”.
Mr Smith said the technology involved is a lot 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.”
The Illinois museum is one of four venues currently featuring the images.
The other museums are in Houston, Indiana and New York.
The Holocaust museum in Dallas will start showing the stories 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 ageing, and so in 20 years we won’t have any survivors who are still able to do that themselves,” she said.
JT Buzanga, an 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,” Mr Buzanga said.
Mr 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”.