Huddled around a microphone in the dimmed room on the second floor of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, twenty orthodox high school girls from Williamsburg, Brooklyn cross-examined Pinchas Gutter.
Mr. Gutter, an 80 year old Polish holocaust survivor, sat on a lighted stage surrounded by high-speed cameras and LED lights and answered every query with a minimum of hesitation. He is the first new-age hologram designed through the amazing grace of technology.
The exhibit, entitled, Dimensions in Testimony, was developed by The University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation and the University’s Institute for Creative Technologies. These interactive holograms of Holocaust survivors appear lifelike, and respond to audience questions effortlessly.
“Were you religious before the war?”
“Is your family religious today?”
“Do you speak Yiddish?”
“Can you sing a Hebrew prayer for us?”
“What kind of Hasid are you?”
The Yeshiva girls dressed modestly with long sleeves and mid-calf skirts spoke a formidable Yiddish to each other. Their English Brooklyn accent stirred the ears of this Bronx-born immigrant. For thirty minutes they uncovered Mr. Gutter’s story.
“Do you have children? And are they religious?”
The facilitator from the Shoah Foundation stepped in.
“Try to ask just one question at a time. Otherwise, the computer gets confused.”
The computer might be confused, but Pinchas looked and sounded in control of every answer. I was convinced that he was talking directly to us. Calm and poised, he retold his story of survival that happened seventy years ago.
“I carry the memory of watching my parents and twin 10-year-old sister being pulled away from me at a concentration camp, where they were killed. I can’t get that image out of my mind. It haunts me to this day.”
There are 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, with about 120,000 of those living in the United States. Their average age is estimated to be 79 with 10-12% dying each year.
But Pinchas Gutter’s legcy will never die because students like the Brooklyn Yeshiva girls will be able to explore every detail of Mr. Gutter’s life for decades to come.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Of course, I still believe in God. It is man that I am having trouble with.”
I watched the girls’ dialogue with Mr. Gutter as much as I watched Mr. Gutter interact with the girls. If he could have seen them through a two-way mirror in the computer, he might have thought he was back in his Polish shtetl surrounded by his loving family and friends.
Blessings, Rabbi Tamara Miller *Picture from USC Institute of Creative Technology.