Virtual Holocaust Memoryscapes Workshop at Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen

In June the Virtual Holocaust Memoryscapes project held a three day workshop in Germany at the sites of the former concentration camps of Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen. The workshop brought together an international team including representatives from the memorial sites, as well as Camp Westerbork and the Anne Frank House in the Netherlands, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottingham, creative design consultants Bright White, creative design company Stand + Stare, and researchers from the University of Leeds, the University of Bristol, Staffordshire University, Manchester Metropolitan University and Texas State University. The aim of the workshop was to consider how immersive technologies such as apps, VR, AR and 360-degree photography can enhance the visitor experience of historical sites, either directly on location or remotely.

On the opening day of the workshop participants received a tour of Neuengamme, led by Dr Iris Groschek.

Tour of Neuengamme memorial site led by Dr Iris Groschek. Photo courtesy of Sytse Wierenga.

Starting at the entrance to the memorial site, Dr Groschek drew on archival photographs of the former camp to allow the team to contrast these images with how the site currently appears.

Tour of Neuengamme memorial site led by Dr Iris Groschek. Photo courtesy of Sytse Wierenga.

As well as exploring the extensive memorial grounds, participants were able to view the research exhibition ‘Posted to Neuengamme Concentration Camp: The Camp SS’ before ending the tour at the House of Remembrance in which the names of 25,000 prisoners known to have perished in Neuengamme are displayed.

Members of the team in the House of Remembrance at Neuengamme. Photo courtesy of Sytse Wierenga.

In the afternoon the team were introduced to Neuengamme’s diverse archival holdings by Dr Reimer Moeller. Following the visit to the archive, the team trialled existing apps created by creative design company Stand + Stare to explore how they might shape and enhance personal interactions with the site.

Archivist Dr Reimer Moeller shows the team some of the artefacts held by Neuengamme memorial site. Photo courtesy of Sytse Wierenga.

On the second day participants travelled to Lower Saxony where they were guided round the grounds of the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen by Stephanie Billib. The team learned about the complicated chronology of the Bergen-Belsen site and its various uses, including its role as a camp for Soviet prisoners of war, an exchange camp for Jewish prisoners, and a concentration camp. Participants discussed the challenges inherent in trying to reflect the complex history of the camp to people visiting the memorial space today, particularly given the lack of a surviving infrastructure from the camp compound.

Stephanie Billib from the Bergen-Belsen memorial site describes the evolution of the camp. Photo courtesy of Sytse Wierenga.

To illustrate how Bergen-Belsen is already using digital technology to engage visitors with the history and spatiality of the site, participants trialled technologies such as an iPad application that uses geo-localization and augmented reality to facilitate visualization of the site. Participants were also given a demonstration of a room-based application housed in Bergen-Belsen’s documentation centre. By allowing participants to trial this technology, the team were then able to consider how they might develop new immersive projects to enhance the visitor experience in different ways.

Tour of Bergen-Belsen memorial site. Photo courtesy of Sytse Wierenga.

The final day of the workshop saw participants return to Neuengamme to reflect on the experiences of the previous two days. These discussions will continue in the third project workshop which will take place in Bristol in September, where the team will review a number of concepts and prototypes that have been developed over the summer.

Dr Kara Critchell (Research Fellow)