Jan 25, 2023 - News

Miami Holocaust survivor records holographic history lesson

Holocaust survivor David Schaecter sits in front of a green screen as part of a holographic museum exhibit.

Holocaust survivor David Schaecter sits in front of a green screen waiting to be interviewed. Photo: Martin Vassolo/Axios

Long after he's gone, 93-year-old Holocaust survivor David Schaecter will live on in holographic form — educating the youth about the horrors he endured in the hope they'll be inspired to rid the world of bigotry.

What's happening: The Miami resident's life story, including his escape from Nazi captivity at 15, will be turned into a holographic video display at the planned Boston Holocaust Museum, which is slated to open in 2025.

  • The interactive display will be able to receive spoken questions from museum visitors and respond in real time with pre-recorded answers about topics relevant to the Holocaust and Schaecter's personal life.

Why it matters: The number of living Holocaust survivors continues to dwindle, and future generations will lose out on the opportunity to hear directly from a survivor about their experiences.

  • The video testimonies, which make two-dimensional images appear three-dimensional, provide an intimate history lesson that may resonate more with young people in this digital age than black-and-white textbook photos.
  • "When we talk about millions, that's a statistic. When we talk about one person, that's a story," Jody Kipnis, co-founder of the new Boston museum, told reporters.
A holographic image of a Holocaust survivor is displayed on a stage.
Kipnis told Axios she wants the display to resemble this holographic technology used at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Photo: Joshua Lott/AFP via Getty Images

His story: Schaecter, originally from Czechoslovakia but a Miamian since 1956, survived four concentration camps and escaped Nazi captivity when he was transported to another camp on a train in 1944.

  • The rest of his family — including his parents, three siblings and a total of 100 relatives — was killed in the camps.

What they're saying: Schaecter told Axios he was feeling a mixture of happiness, humility and bashfulness about the prospect of becoming an interactive museum exhibit.

  • "Who the heck am I talking to?" he joked, before saying he hoped to inspire children with his story.
  • "I want them to tell the story that they heard me telling them when I'm no longer [alive], and that's my purpose," he said.

How it works: Schaecter will spend this week at a Miami TV studio surrounded by green screens and cameras answering up to 1,000 questions as part of the five-day interview process.

  • The questions, compiled by a research team, delve into every aspect of Schaecter's life but also include questions that students may ask, like "What is your favorite color?"

Ryan Fenton-Strauss, director of media and archives at the USC Shoah Foundation, which developed the display, said his goal is to create a comforting environment for survivors to tell their stories, which will involve reliving traumatic experiences.

  • "This is not an easy task that we're asking David to go through," he said.

What we're watching: The Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, which Schaecter helped found, plans to use holographic technology in the planned expansion of its campus, which is expected to break ground this year.

  • Kipnis said Schaecter's testimony would debut in Boston but then be displayed at other museums.
  • "We would love to have Miami use David as one of their exhibits," Kipnis said.

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