As Pinchas Gutter sits easily in a chair answering the students’ questions about his Holocaust experience, he is calm, truthful, detailed and forthcoming.
Some Rolling Hills Country Day School students tear up as they hear about his lost family members. Others cringe as they hear about the brutal punishments that were administered at the camps. All are amazed at what is seen and heard.
This, however, is not a conventional Q&A between a survivor and a group of middle school students studying World War II.
Developed and sponsored by the Shoah Foundation of USC, an institute dedicated to multimedia records of genocide survivors, this is a high-tech, interactive holographic presentation that makes the audience feel as if they are in the room with the 85-year-old subject.
During the past two weeks, the Shoah Foundation presented 14 half-hour sessions of “New Dimensions in Testimonies” to the middle school students, featuring Gutter and Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor.
Kor’s testimony was still a work in progress, but students were able to get an idea of what goes into the 30-hour, 50-camera recording. They also contributed to the foundation’s library of more than 1,000 questions for future presentations.
“Your questions were amazing,” said Shoah Foundation project specialist Kia Hayes. “It will definitely help with future interviews.”
Where Kor’s testimony was a little choppy and delayed, Gutter’s delivery was vivid, almost like a Skype broadcast with gestures and expressions and impeccable response time.
“I really felt like he was there with us,” said eighth-grader Spencer Levin. “I felt so connected to him.”
In the past, RHCDS hosted holocaust survivors to speak to the students. This experience, according to Assistant Principal Todd Gordon, is as good of a learning experience, if not better.
“Not only is it is getting harder to get (the survivors) because they aren’t available, but this is something we can preserve for many generations in the first-person perspective,” said Gordon.
“Museums are great but not interactive,” added Gordon, who chaperones middle school student trips to the Museum of Tolerance and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. “This generation, however, responds way better to technology.”
“I learned more here than at the museums because I was able to get my answers immediately,” said Levin. “Today, I asked (Pinchas) the questions I wanted to know when I was at the museums.”
“Interaction is a great way to learn,” added eighth-grader Tess Fechner. “It was a different experience than what I thought it would be, but in a good way. I hope that the students will have the same opportunity that I did. I hope the school can bring it back for them. It really feels like you’re talking to a real person.”
USC’s “New Dimensions in Testimonies” has been featured in several museum exhibits in the world.
Their goal is to complete a total of 20 holographic interviews from its video recorded testimonies of more than 54,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide.