(RNS) – David Schaecter is 93 years old and running out of time.
He has dedicated the past 60 years to explain his struggle to escape from Auschwitz, his escape and how he reconciled his life in the United States after losing his entire family in the Nazi holocaust.
As he marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday (Jan. 27), Schaecter knows his days of traveling and witnessing in person will soon be over.
So this week he agreed to film his life story for a week using new technology that will allow future generations to interact with his hologram image.
The story will be the basis of an exhibition at Boston’s future Holocaust Museum, which is expected to open in 2025.
“All kids, but especially Jewish kids, need to know who they are, who they are and what happened,” Schaecter said during a lunch break during a photo shoot in a Miami studio. “I’m the person who wants to tell them what happened.”
The technology, developed by the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimonies project, records Holocaust survivors’ responses to nearly 1,000 questions on one video. After that, using natural language skills, programmers convert each answer into search terms. In the museum or in the classroom, people can answer a question on two large pictures of a survivor’s life and see and hear the survivor’s answer in real time.
Schaecter is a 62-year-old Holocaust survivor who took part in the marathon for the show. As the number of survivors able to share their stories dwindles, technology is providing a way for museums and schools to remember the massacre of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their allies.
Jody Kipnis, co-founder of the Boston Holocaust Museum, said he and colleague Todd Ruderman encountered hologram technology at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie.
“We knew we wanted this show and we knew we wanted David,” she said. “This is about as close to talking to a Holocaust survivor as (one) can get when the survivors are gone.”
Since the technology became available 10 years ago, 14 Holocaust museums (including 11 in the United States) have shown exhibits and survivors using interactive technology.
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Schaecter is a veteran at telling his story. He was one of the founders of the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach and has spent countless hours meeting with elementary, high school and university students to tell them about his life.
When Schaecter was 11 years old, he was taken with his mother, two younger sisters and his older brother from their home in Czechoslovakia to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. When he arrived, he was separated from his mother and sisters and never saw them again. He and his brother spent 18 months in Auschwitz and were taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, where they lived for another two years and where his brother was killed. Schaecter escaped by train as the Germans were evacuating the camps. He arrived in the United States in 1950 and received a degree in civil engineering from the University of California Los Angeles.
In 2018, Kipnis and Ruderman accompanied Schaecter on a trip back to Auschwitz. Upon their return, the family founded the Holocaust Legacy Foundation. Last year, he bought a building in the historic part of Boston where he plans to build a 30,000-square-foot museum.
Schaecter’s testimony will be very important but will include other events.
“David encouraged us to build this museum,” Kipnis said. “We stopped in front of his house. 8 And he said to us: ‘Listen to me, listen to me, be my word and tell my story.'”
For Schaecter, who lost a lot, this new technology is an opportunity to testify on behalf of the approximately 1.5 million children between the ages of 12 who lost their lives in the Holocaust and will not have the opportunity to speak.
“Neshamot 1.5 million” he said, using many Hebrew words for “souls,” “must be remembered.”
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