It is now over seventy years since the end of the Second World War and the number of living survivors with personal memories of the Holocaust is gradually diminishing. Holocaust memorial and education organisations are therefore increasingly turning to digital technology to preserve, extend and energise the public’s engagement with the memory of the genocide and the Nazi period more broadly. Prominent examples of recent digital memory projects include The Forever Project, a form of ‘interactive testimony’ developed by the National Holocaust Centre and Museum that allows members of the public to hold a virtual conversation with a Holocaust survivor using natural language processing; 3D reconstructions and augmented reality apps that allow visitors to the memorial site at Bergen-Belsen to see where camp buildings were formerly located; and The Secret Annex Online and VR films developed by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
Virtual Holocaust Memoryscapes builds on this research, transforming public understanding of the Holocaust using virtual technologies to enable users to encounter the hidden histories of sites such as Bergen-Belsen, where no physical traces of the genocide remain. By creating immersive, interactive representations of Holocaust landscapes (such as former Nazi camps) that link to relevant historical content, the project will create new ways of encountering both the landscapes themselves and a vast archive of visual and written documents of the genocide, including testimonies, films, photographs, historical documents and cultural works.
I am absolutely delighted that this project has been funded. The use of multisensory, virtual and participatory technologies as a method of co-constructing and sharing knowledge very closely relates to my research interests and the practice that I developed as part of Experience Temple Works. Applying these same methods to sites related to the Holocaust could have very significant social and academic impact.
The team of key participants bring together bring together two strands of highly relevant expertise: Holocaust literature, testimony and geography, and digital media, computer graphics and VR. We have also established a strong network of external partners including the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site, the Neuengamme Memorial Site, the Anne Frank Museum, the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, the Imperial War Museum and the National Holocaust Centre, and will also be consulting with two digital media companies working in the commercial world of VR: Bright White and Stand + Stare Interactive.
I am excited to see how this collaboration allows the methods developed as part of Experience Temple Works to be extended and applied in such a meaningful and important context.