Holocaust Survivor Testimony and the Future of Memory Workshop

The National Holocaust Centre and Museum, 7th February 2018, report by Kate Marrison

Earlier this year, academics and postgraduate researchers met with staff at The National Holocaust Centre and Museum for a one day workshop entitled Holocaust Survivor Testimony and the Future of Memory. The aim of the workshop was to allow researchers from across the UK to network and share their projects, creating possibilities for future interdisciplinary and collaborative work. Postgraduates were able to liaise with the museum staff and discover the future projects being planned at the centre. During our initial welcome, we were joined by survivor, Professor Martin Stern and had the privilege of hearing about his involvement with the Centre.

The day was divided into three workshops, the first on The Forever Project, which is a 3D interactive programme which aims to preserve testimony for generations to come. Staff provided us with a demonstration of the project whereby Steven Frank’s projection was asked questions in relation to his experiences during the war. Complex algorithms then enabled the projection to source the most appropriate answers from a pool of pre-recorded speech. Naturally, this stimulated a wide discussion on the ethics, software, and development of such a project amongst staff and students.

This was followed by a session on the verification of testimony with Anessa Riffat, who shared her work at the museum and demonstrated how she uses artefacts donated to the centre to verify survivors’ testimonies. After lunch, the final session of the day allowed everyone to take a tour of the permanent Holocaust exhibition and discuss how the material could be updated and improved. Interestingly, one half of the group experienced the display backwards, starting at the end of the war and finishing with the section on pre-war Jewish life. Again, this sparked passionate debate about reinvigorating the museum experience, challenging linear histories, and thus reevaluating the way in which visitors consume the conventional narrative of the Holocaust.

In addition, the group experienced The Journey, an interactive exhibition following the story of a fictional character, Leo Stein. Leo is a 10-year-old German-Jewish boy living in Berlin in 1938, eventually destined for the Kindertransport. Aimed at school children, the conversation focused on how to improve the level of visitor engagement through the various rooms which represent key historical moments within the Holocaust. Furthermore, as The Journey is targeted at children under 16, much of the debate centred on how to present focussed material while granting agency within an interactive environment.

Ultimately, we considered and evaluated interactive memory projects within a pedagogic institution across all of these individual sessions. To conclude, the workshop academic advisory members, including Dr Matthew Boswell and Dr Gary Mills, were able to share details of upcoming projects they are working on which also focus on the preservation of memory in the digital age. In turn, all attendees exchanged contact details and agreed upon attending a similar workshop in the future to continue these exciting and important critical conversations.