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Holograms of survivors bring holocaust to life for visitors to new museum


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John Burger - published on 12/07/17

The Illinois Holocaust Museum offers virtual experience of a very real story

It’s almost like hearing ghosts speak.

The new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill., features holograms of real people telling their stories of survival of the Holocaust and “answering” visitors’ questions about their experience.

Thirteen survivors were filmed in 360 degree video with more than 100 cameras, a process that took about six days each, according to Smithsonian magazine. They were asked around 2,000 questions each, providing the resulting hologram the ability to interact with visitors and answer just about any question they might have.

“Why would you want to stand in front of hundreds of guests and open up your heart and bleed in front of them? Because it’s important,” said Aaron Elster, who escaped from Treblinka as a boy but lost his family in the Nazi extermination camp in his native Poland. “This will exist longer than we will. And a whole new world of young people and adults will understand what people are capable of doing to one another, and that it just takes a little bit of goodness from each person to help change the world for the better.”

Although Elster appears in the exhibit in a form of “virtual reality,” he reminded an interviewer that what he lived through was very real.

“Sometimes I can just tell it like a story, and other times it becomes real,” he said. “I’ve accepted the fact that my parents and my aunts and uncles were killed. But I had a little sister, Sarah, who loved me so much. I created this terrible image of how she died, and that causes me such pain. Do you have any idea how long it takes to die in a gas chamber? It takes 15 to 20 minutes before your life is choked out. Think about it. A 6-year-old little girl, people climbing on top of her in order to reach out for any fresh air that still exists in the room. They lose control of all their bodily functions and they die in agony. This is what you carry with you. It’s not a story. It’s reality.”

The new museum says in a statement that is is “dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Holocaust by honoring the memories of those who were lost and by teaching universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice and indifference. The Museum fulfills its mission through the exhibition, preservation and interpretation of its collections and through education programs and initiatives that foster the promotion of human rights and the elimination of genocide.”

Skokie, the location of the museum, is the city where neo-Nazis threatened to march in the late 1970s, leading Chicago-area Holocaust survivors to form the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois. They purchased a small Skokie storefront and made it available to the public, especially to schoolchildren, focusing on combating hate with education. The foundation established a museum in Skokie in 2009 and successfully pushed state legislation that made Illinois the first state in the nation to require Holocaust education in public schools. In 2005, the organization was influential in expanding this mandate to require schools to teach about all genocides.

Elster said that although people keep repeating the phrase “Never again,” people in various parts of the world are still killing one another.

“So our hope is to make sure that young people understand what human beings are capable of doing to one another,” he said, and that “we expect them to make a difference, because they can.”

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