July 27, 2016
With this new technology, the in-person conversation exists.
The impact of Pinchas’ story can reach beyond the places he has visited himself.
If you’ve heard a Holocaust Survivor speak, then you know it is an experience unlike any other. The raw emotion, even from a Survivor who has told their story hundreds of times, is evident in every retelling. Their answers vary, their voices crack, and their smiles strain when they mention particularly painful memories.
I’ve been lucky to hear many Holocaust Survivors speak. Each time their memories are powerful, their stories are piercing, and they are incredibly personable. Nothing rivals these unique interactions.
For the past 70 years and even more so in the last decade, we have been asking “What will remain when there are no longer Survivors to share their stories?” I was skeptical that interactive technology would be comparable to that of real life conversation.
Then, I had my first Q&A with Pinchas Gutter, Holocaust Survivor and first ever Survivor to be filmed with holographic technology and custom voice recognition software, ensuring his unedited story would be available for generations to come. Sitting across from Pinchas on an incredible HD screen, one thing was certain: Pinchas on screen was no different than Pinchas in person in answers, sound, and looks.
“Hello,” he replied.
“Can you tell me about your family?”
And off he goes, just like that, into detailed memories of his Mother and Father and the protection he felt from them even after they died. We hear Pinchas lamenting his twin sister whom he can’t remember. He talks of their life before the war, what happened to them upon entering the first camp, how he survived believing his Father was watching over him.
“Pinchas, do you have any regrets?”
His first response is none that he can think of. I ask again. This time, tears well in his eyes and he begins the story of how his biggest regret is that he doesn’t remember his sister besides the way she wore her hair in a long, golden braid. It is a heart wrenching story.
Like any live conversation with a Survivor, Pinchas’ answers vary as he goes deeper into his story. There are long pauses in speech where he needs to gather himself and think of the right wording. There are times when he says “I beg your pardon” or “Can you repeat that” because just like any live person, there are times when the technology doesn’t quite understand. No questions are off limits; there is no opportunity to offend Pinchas. You could spend two days talking to him and still hear new answers. That’s what’s so incredible, and that’s why it’s so exciting that Pinchas is just the first, and there are stories from other Survivors to come.
Illinois Holocaust Museum is the first Museum in the world to share the technology, which is developed by USC Shoah Foundation New Dimensions in Testimony Program in association with the Museum. By the end of 2017, Aaron Elster, Fritzie Fritzshall, Sam Harris, four other Holocaust Survivors from the Chicagoland area and Museum’s Speakers’ Bureau, as well as six others from around the world will be available.
Today, the reach of hearing a Survivor testimony only goes as far as the Survivor is willing to travel. Videos and recordings of Survivors telling their stories bear no comparison to face to face conversation. With this new technology, the in-person conversation exists. The impact of Pinchas’ story can reach beyond the places he has visited himself. He has shared his story thousands of times at Illinois Holocaust Museum through this breakthrough technology, while remaining as impactful as if he had been in the room.
With my generation and generations to come, the opportunity to interact with Survivors in person is fleeting and will soon be gone. But, my generation also places tremendous value on technology and the endless opportunities that come with pushing technological boundaries. Pinchas represents the latest frontier of interactive technology while preserving stories that otherwise wouldn’t be as impactful in future decades. That’s what makes him and those to follow so important to this generation.
Caroline | Student at University of Michigan & Member of Museum’s Young Professional Committee