Technology tells survivors' stories at Illinois Holocaust Museum

Sunday, April 30, 2017 10:35PM
The Illinois Holocaust Museum's holographic theater of survivors' stories and its "Take a Stand Center" is tentatively set to open Oct. 29.


SKOKIE, Ill. - The Illinois Holocaust Museum is using new technology to tell the stories of 13 Holocaust survivors, including 7 from Chicago.

The technology takes first-hand survivor accounts to create interactive holograms, which allow for visitors to ask questions and get answers - long after the survivors have passed on.

Auschwitz survivor Fritizie Fritzshall is one of those who told her story.

Last year at the USC Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles, Fritzshall sat in a special studio - a sort of green bubble with an array of 110 cameras recording her in 3-D. Over five consecutive days, she was asked nearly 2,000 questions about her life and her Holocaust experience.

It was not easy.

"It washed me out totally. It brought me back into the camp. It gave me the nightmares again. I was hungry again. I was cold again," Fritzshall recalls.

From that emotionally draining weeklong session came over 20 hours of video and the construction of a hologram that answers questions.

When the hologram is asked: "Fritzie, could you tell us what it was like when you first arrived at Auschwitz?" The image of Fritzshall responds: "When I first arrived I saw just the guns and the dogs."

A computer program built on sophisticated voice recognition software marries questions to answers.

"The machine hears key words like 'arrival' and 'Auschwitz' and it searches a data base to determine what answers have those words," said Shoshana Buchholz-Miller, VP of education for the museum.

And there can be multiple answers.

For now - in its testing phase - the hologram is a regular screen image, but it will be fully 3-D with the completion of a new multi-purpose theater.

Fritzshall is one of 13 survivors - seven from Chicago - who've recorded their Holocaust experiences for interaction with generations to come.

"We're working all the time to make connections between history and the Holocaust and the world today and this is really the most powerful tool we can imagine," said Susan Abrams, CEO of the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

At 13, Fritzshall lost most of her family. She survived in part because of bread crumbs given to her by others who saw her as their hope. She became the messenger in ways that - years ago - no one could have imagined.

"I have passed it on to my twin, so to speak," Fritzshall said. "She can carry it now. When I'm no longer here, she can answer for what's asked of me. She will carry on the story forever."

The museum's holographic theater of survivors' stories and its "Take a Stand Center" is tentatively set to open Oct. 29. It will be the first museum in the world to use this interactive technology when it debuts.
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