3-D Hologram Tells Indelible Scars of Holocaust
While Striving to Find the Good in Everyone
Extremely personal experiences of surviving the Holocaust are now being told by three-dimensional holographic images of 13 Holocaust survivors at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie.
This high-tech, interactive exhibit opened on October 29 at the museum’s Take a Stand Center. The life-like 3-D images tell their real experiences of surviving the Holocaust and even answer questions from the audience. Sam Harris, President and one of the founders of the museum, is among those who told their stories in hologram.
The exhibit is designed to immortalize the experience of surviving the Holocaust as told by the survivors using the cutting-edge technology, aiming to encourage the future generations to “take a stand” and “fight hatred, prejudice, indifference and genocide.” During a screening of the exhibit, the audience asked Harris, 82, about his personal experience of the concentration camp, his survival, his family members, and the possibility of recurring of genocide. According to Harris, the images are programmed to answer as many as 2,000 expected questions.
Harris was filmed at a studio in California for five days from the morning to the evening. During the filming, 113 cameras were used and he was surrounded by 3,000 lights. The heat from the lights was so intense that he had to change his shirt numerous times.
The filming was emotionally painful for Harris as well as physically tough, having to answer a lot of “overly personal” questions. “I’ll be 83 next year. As one of the last survivors, I felt I had to do this for the future generations,” he said. “One of the things I liked [about this] is once I started to speak, they cannot erase it. It’s there. Otherwise it wouldn’t be good for history.”
Sammy: Child Survivor of the Holocaust
Harris has told the story of his life, from his childhood under the Jewish persecution and horrendous experience of surviving the Holocaust to the life in the United States, in a book entitled “Sammy: Child Survivor of the Holocaust.” It’s been translated into Japanese by a retired businessman, Shuji Ueda, and is available for purchase through Amazon.
Harris (born as Szlamek Rzeznik) was affectionately called Sammy when he was a little boy living in Dęblin, Poland with his family. His idyllic life, however, was cut short in 1939 when the Germans occupied Dęblin and his hometown was turned into a ghetto.
In 1942, Sammy was one of the Dęblin Jews who had been rounded up for a cattle train ride. At the age of 7, all Sammy saw was a “forest” of legs of the adults in line. Suddenly, his father pushed him out of the line and yelled, “Run!” That was the last time he saw his father, and the beginning of the nightmarish experience of survival.
His older sister Rosa hid him in the Dęblin concentration camp, unnoticed by the Germans. He remembers seeing the dead bodies of escapees hanging between the barrack and the outhouse. He had to “choose” to wet his bed, rather than going out to the outhouse.
In 1944, a nine-year-old Sammy was among those who were moved to the camp in Czestochowa, some distance away from Dęblin. Hunger was the everyday reality there. Sammy often went to steal potatoes on the cattle car nearby – that was the job for a small kid who could cross between the barbed wire.
One night, Sammy was caught by a German soldier. In Harris’ own words, the soldier “held onto my right hand with his left hand,” and had a pistol pointed at about “5 inches from my forehead.”
“I was shaking,” Harris recalled. “I thought that I was dead, but then he let go of my arm. I was frantic. I turned around and started running, and he was chasing me. I guess I was running for my life. Then I ran into a ditch and jumped into it. When I made it over the other side, I realized he stopped [chasing me]. I can never forget that.”
Day of Liberation
On the New Year’s Day Eve, 1976, Harris was standing in front of the Cinderella Castle at Disney World with his family. The night skies were lit up brightly in celebration. And suddenly, a vision came back to his mind, after 31 years, of the night he and other Jews at the concentration camp were liberated.
The skies were also lit up over the Czestochowa concentration
camp that night but it was because of the shooting by the Russian Army
who had entered the town. The lights reflected on the faces of the German
guards standing on the walls surrounding the camp, Harris recalled. The
Jews dragged the guards down and let them escape.
The elation of liberation was short-lived. People “didn’t know what was going on” when the camp gate was opened. Dead bodies of German and Russian soldiers were lying around outside the camp. The liberated prisoners had to walk a long way to Dęblin, where Harris’ home had been lost forever.
Look for the Good in People
Harris started to tell what he remembers about humanity under adversity and instances that the good in people saved others’ lives.
When the Jewish prisoners were moved from the Dęblin camp to Czestochowa, the Germans initially separated the five children away from the adults to have them shot and killed later in the woods. As many as 1.5 million Jewish children had been murdered during the war.
There was a Jewish man, Harris said, among the prisoners
who fought during World War I in the Austrian Army. He had saved the life
of a German soldier, who happened to have been stationed at that same
camp. Through this German soldier, the Jewish man had obtained papers
signed by a Nazi officer to allow his daughter, about Harris’ age, to
stay with him and be spared from the inescapable fate.
In the comment in his book, Harris wrote: “There are, and always have been, many people in every nation who are good. We should always strive to find the good in everyone, to find ways to love and not to hate.”
Harris said that the translator, Shuji Ueda, had read this comment in the book, liked it, and wanted to share it with the people in Japan. “To me, he seems like another [Chiune] Sugihara,” Harris said. “Can you imagine how much time he spent translating the book? I would like to make sure that he gets credit somehow.”
Ueda read Harris’ book in 2012 and was profoundly impacted by his life story. Born in Hiroshima, Japan five years after the atomic bombing, Ueda has seen a long-lasting suffering of the Hiroshima victims, and felt that Harris’ experience has resonated with that of the Hiroshima victims he had witnessed. Issues of nationalism and international cultural exchanges had always interested him. After volunteering to translate the book, Ueda intensely studied Judaism and Jewish culture and completed the Japanese version after a year and a half of repeated editing and revisions.
Chiune Sugihara, Japanese Consul-General to Lithuania
during 1939-1940, issued thousands of Japanese transit visas to Jewish
refugees, saving the lives of approximately 6,000 Jews.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
Sam Harris poses for a photo in front of the Take a Stand Center in the Illinois
Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie
A rocker room which exhibits Chiune Sugihara's works in the Illinois
Holocaust Museum & Education Center
The inside of the rocker where Chiune Sugihara's works are recorded.