The two Aaron Elsters spoke last week about the importance of remembering the stories of Holocaust survivors who will not always be around to share them firsthand.
On Thursday, Elster stood directly in front of his seated, life-like hologram, a piece of cutting-edge technology from the new Take a Stand Center that just opened at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie.
“I would like future generations to know my story, what I overcame to survive,” a rendition of Elster’s voice on the hologram said after being asked about his legacy. “That’s a lesson to them — that they can overcome all kinds of adversity.”
The museum had been planning and building the $5 million Take a Stand Center for the last several years, museum officials said.
Elster was one of several local survivors to spend about a week in California for extensive interviewing so his story would live on forever. It wasn’t easy, but participating survivors knew it was necessary, he said.
In the 66-seat theater at the museum, participating survivors share their stories with brief introductions and then their holograms can field specific questions from visitors, answering through sophisticated voice-activation.
“I think the technology puts this museum on a totally new level,” Elster said. “It will bring an awful lot more people in here. There will be an awful lot more education going on. It’s great for us and it’s absolutely fantastic for the museum.”
Illinois Holocaust Museum CEO Susan Abrams said the museum helped advance the project — New Dimensions in Testimony — a collaboration between the USC Shoah Foundation and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.
“The survivors were filmed in a studio in L.A. of which there are only three in the world,” Abrams said. “The survivors were surrounded by over a hundred cameras.”
She called the technology “future-proof” meaning that one day the recordings may be able to be shown in a 360-degree venue as technology advances. But for now, survivor testimonies are expressed through a three-dimensional hologram that is as close to the real thing as technology gets, she said.
“It prepares us for the day when our survivors will not be here,” Abrams said. “Right now, the 60,000 students and educators who come through plus tens of thousands of general visitors have the incredible privilege to hear directly from a survivor.”
In addition to the holograms, the Take a Stand Center highlights 40 historical and contemporary “upstanders” who have fought against injustice and cruelty in various ways.
Some are better known than others. Visitors will find Nelson Mandela’s story here, for example, but they’ll also find the story of young Marley Dias who visited the museum last week when the center opened.
As the exhibition recounts, Dias was a sixth grader in New Jersey when she complained that the literature she had to read in school didn’t include black girls as protagonists. She began a book drive that ignited into a movement, which is told in detail in the exhibition.
Dias said she initially was surprised when told the museum wanted to feature her story.
“I was excited because I focus on diversity,” she said. “Even though this is a Holocaust museum, they focus on different people from different religions, different backgrounds and who have different ideas. I thought it was very important and very cool that they were sharing my story.”
The center also includes an art gallery and a Take a Stand Lab that demonstrates ways in which visitors can make their voices heard.
“The upstanders we feature are both kids and adults,” Abrams said. “They are famous and not famous. They could be your neighbor or mine. They are local and they are global. They are all of us.”