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'So Valuable a Gift to Humanity': Speak Virtually with a Survivor at NYC's Museum of Jewish Heritage

September 15, 2017 - by Kevin Rodvold
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The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan has unveiled its newest exhibition, New Dimensions in Testimony, as a part of its 20th anniversary commemoration. This interactive installation, created by the USC Shoah Foundation, provides the rare chance for museum visitors to virtually converse with Holocaust survivors. 

Dimensions in Testimony Museum of the Jewish Heritage

Photo: John Halpern  

The installation allows you to speak to two survivors. One is Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Anne Frank. After going into hiding with her family in 1942, they were eventually betrayed on Eva’s 15th birthday. They were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Eva’s father and brother both died on a death march at the end of the war, but Eva and her mother were liberated by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945. Today, Schloss lives in London.

The second is Pinchas Gutter, who survived six German Nazi concentration camps. Following capture in April 1943, his family was sent to the Majdanek death camp. Upon arrival, Pinchas’ father, mother, and sister were murdered by the Nazis. Two years later, after being passed through several other concentration camps, Pinchas was liberated by the Soviet Army.

The amazing feat of technology is accomplished by an extensive database of recorded answers from the participating survivors. When a guest asks a question, the playback technology parses word patterns to trigger a response from more than 1,500 possibilities. The dialogue is seamless, direct, and feels truly alive. USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith has spoken on the incredible historic potential, stating that the ability to directly talk to survivors even decades into the future will provide students with distinct accounts of the Holocaust’s horrors, “and perhaps more importantly, the necessity of tolerance,” he says. "A price can't be attached to so valuable a gift to humanity."

Eyewitness Photographs by B A Van Sise

Photos: BA Van Sise

The museum has also opened its first public art installation Eyewitness: Photographs by B.A. Van Sise, featuring portraits of 31 Holocaust survivors living in New York City. Photojournalist B.A. Van Sise spent the past year photographing survivors who are part of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau and who serve as Gallery Educators. Eyewitness will remain open through Dec. 15. 

For more information, visit mjhnyc.org. Use this coupon and get $3 off admission, for up to two people.

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