Testimony 360: Using Tech to Keep Holocaust Stories Alive

by | Jun 20, 2024

In a world where the firsthand witnesses of the Holocaust are dwindling, preserving their stories has become a mission of paramount importance. Enter Testimony 360, an innovative initiative that marries the poignant narratives of Holocaust survivors with cutting-edge technology. This project, spearheaded by the Holocaust Educational Trust, aims to ensure that the harrowing experiences of survivors like Manfred Goldberg remain vivid and impactful for generations to come.

Manfred Goldberg’s life story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Born in Germany in 1930, Manfred’s early years were overshadowed by the rise of the Nazi regime. His journey through the ghettos, labor camps, and concentration camps, including the notorious Stutthof, was a harrowing ordeal that saw the loss of his brother Herman, whose fate remains a haunting mystery. After the war, Manfred was one of the 732 child survivors granted refuge in the UK, where he began to rebuild his life, resuming his education and eventually starting a family.

For decades, the shadows of his past remained locked away. But as time passed, Manfred found a new purpose in sharing his story. His mission took him from Scotland to Cornwall, speaking to tens of thousands of students about the horrors he endured and the importance of remembrance. Even the pandemic couldn’t halt his commitment; he adapted to digital platforms like Zoom and Teams to continue his outreach. “My story is a testament to human endurance and the importance of remembering,” Manfred often remarks. “If we forget, the horrors can come back.”

Recognizing the imperative to preserve these stories as survivors become fewer, the Holocaust Educational Trust launched Testimony 360 in 2021. As pandemic restrictions eased, Manfred spent five days in a green screen rig, where volumetric capture cameras filmed him from every angle. He answered over 1,000 questions, creating an interactive survivor testimony that can respond in real-time to students’ queries. “I felt like I was stepping into a new realm,” Manfred described the experience, awed by the technology that captured his essence so comprehensively.

Testimony 360 goes beyond static storytelling. Paired with VR headsets, students can virtually visit Manfred’s hometown and the Stutthof concentration camp. This immersive experience was piloted with over 800 students, receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback. The launch of Testimony 360 was celebrated nationwide, with its first rollout at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Camberwell, an area with almost no Jewish community but a strong commitment to Holocaust education. During the launch, Manfred was deeply moved by a display board created by students who had visited Auschwitz and met his lifelong friend, Zigi Shipper. “It was a moment of deep reflection,” Manfred said, looking at the photos of Zigi. “Seeing myself virtually and Zigi in spirit was profoundly moving.”

Manfred interacted with his virtual self, asking questions and smiling at the responses. He toured his hometown and the concentration camp in virtual reality, all from a classroom in Camberwell. Describing the experience as “close to magic,” Manfred’s reaction encapsulated the transformative power of technology in education.

The launch of Testimony 360 marks a significant milestone in Holocaust education. The integration of advanced technology not only preserves survivor testimonies but also makes them accessible to a broader audience. As survivors age and their numbers dwindle, initiatives like Testimony 360 become crucial. The project also highlights the intersection of education and technology. By using VR and interactive elements, students can engage with history in a way that is both immersive and impactful. This method of learning fosters a deeper understanding and connection to the events of the Holocaust.

Moreover, the nationwide rollout underscores the importance of inclusive education. By reaching schools in areas with little to no Jewish community, Testimony 360 ensures that the lessons of the Holocaust are not confined to specific demographics but are shared universally. Looking ahead, the success of Testimony 360 could pave the way for similar projects. The Holocaust Educational Trust may expand the program to include other survivors, capturing a wider range of experiences. Additionally, advancements in technology could further enhance the interactivity and realism of such initiatives.

There is also potential for global outreach. By collaborating with international educational institutions, Testimony 360 could be adapted for students worldwide, fostering a global understanding of the Holocaust. Furthermore, as technology evolves, so too can the methods of preserving and sharing survivor testimonies. Future developments in AI and machine learning could allow for even more personalized and detailed interactions, ensuring that the memories and lessons of the Holocaust remain vivid for generations to come.

Testimony 360 is not just an educational resource; it is a bridge between past and future, ensuring that the voices of survivors like Manfred Goldberg continue to resonate, educating and inspiring long after they are gone. Through innovative technology and a commitment to remembrance, Testimony 360 stands as a beacon of hope, ensuring that the stories of the Holocaust endure, teaching us to remember and to never repeat the horrors of the past.