Recommendations for Digitally Recording, Recirculating, and Remixing Holocaust Testimony
Authors: Walden, V.G., Karathanasopoulou, E. et al.
Publisher: The Digital Holocaust Memory Project Sussex Weidenfeld Institute of Jewish Studies
Testimony has always raised ethical issues, especially in relation to questions of provenance, integrity, ownership, and authenticity. Nevertheless, it has become one of the most powerful sources for Holocaust education. Meeting a Holocaust survivor in-person has been a particular tenet of educational experiences. Looking forward, we face dual challenges: (1) the decline in numbers of living witnesses to the Holocaust, (2) the increasing prevalence of digital technologies. It has been somewhat taken for granted that the latter offers solutions for dealing with the former.
Media technologies have been integral to the dissemination of Holocaust testimony since the 1940s. From the attempts to smuggle out material evidence of witnessing atrocities on photographic film to the scraps of paper and writing implements used to document experiences and wishes for the future, from the Oneg Shabbat archives of the Warsaw Ghetto to the 'Scrolls of Auschwitz'. It is however in the immediate post-war period with Boder's wire recordings that spoken testimony of events after the fact began to be recorded at scale. Some survivors later chose to publish their testimonies in memoir form. Then, in 1979, the Holocaust Survivors Film Project launched which developed into the Fortunoff Archives at Yale University. At Yale, audio-video testimonies were captured on tape, which not only preserved the speech patterns alongside narrative content of testimonies, but gestures and body language also. In moments of silence, viewers of testimony could now see the testimony-giver's body, any emotional reaction, and their gaze. There was a range of academic writing (from Lawrence Langer to Georges Agamben and Jean-François Lyotard) that addressed the significance of these 'silences', in different ways.
With video then digital interventions in testimony recording, there has been increasingly attention given to the visual elements of testimonial narratives. This has been particularly demonstrated by the projects of the USC Shoah Foundation.
Starting in a similar vein to Fortunoff, with audio-visual testimonies, the Foundation (initially established by the profits for Schindler's List (1994)), has since turned its attention to interactive interfaces (IWitness) use of machine learning (Dimensions in Testimony) and virtual reality ('Lola' and 'The Last Goodbye') and 360-degree on- location testimonies to explore the affordances that emerging technologies can offer for the sustainability of testimony into the future. Whilst of course, historical concerns about testimony will always remain, digital technologies introduce new possibilities and challenges, which needs to be better understood across the sector.
This report serves as an important first step in this work. It was created as part of the research project 'Participatory Workshops - Co-Designing Standards for Digital Interventions in Holocaust Memory and Education', which is one thread of the larger Digital Holocaust Memory Project at the University of Sussex.
The participatory workshops have focused on six themes, each of which brought together a different range of expertise to discuss current challenges and consider possible recommendations for the future. The themes were:
• AI and machine learning • Digitising material evidence • Recording, recirculating and remixing testimony • Social media • Virtual memoryscapes • Computer games
In this report, you will find the recommendations and a suggestion of who could bear responsibility to take each of these on; a summary of the workshop discussions; and a list of the participants who contributed to this work. There will also be a complementary action plan published alongside this report. The recommendations and discussion presented here summarise participant opinions, which might not reflect the opinions of project leads or any individual participant in full, or all participants in consensus. Whilst we have offered participants the opportunity to review and discuss the development of these guidelines, we have tried to retain differing perspectives rather than suggest there was homogeneity in opinion. The discussion presented is an aggregation of professional opinions informed by a diverse range of experiences and expertise. We present ideas collectively, rather than attributing specific points to participants. All participants are, however, acknowledged as contributors to this report.
This document does not claim to be the last word on digitally recording, recirculating, and remixing Holocaust testimony, rather we recognise that this is very much the beginning of a longer conversation. We hope that the immediate recommendations suggested in these guidelines will help organisations and individuals to prioritise the work needed to work effectively with Holocaust testimony in digital spaces.
Project Leads: Primary Investigator: Victoria Grace Walden, Senior Lecturer, School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex, UK, Co-Investigators: Margaretta Jolly, Director of the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research, School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex, UK, Kate Marrison, Postdoctoral Fellow at The Sussex Weidenfeld Institute, University of Sussex, UK, Mykola Makhortykh, Alfred Landecker lecturer, University of Bern, Switzerland
Participants: Christy Bailey-Tomecek, Archivist, Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University, US, Brian Brivati, Visiting Professor, Kingston School of Art, UK Silvina Fernandez-Duque, Future Projects Manager, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, US, Susan Hogervorst, Assistant Professor in Cultural History, Open Universiteit, the Netherlands, Katja Hoyer, Freelance Historian, Holocaust Educational Trust, UK, Meg Jensen, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing, and Director of Life Narrative Research Group, Kingston University, UK, Sara Jones, Professor of Modern Languages, University of Birmingham, UK, Evi Karathanasopoulou, Principal Academic in Audio Production, Bournemouth University, UK, Renana Keydar, Associate Professor of Law and Digital Humanities, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, Susanna Kleeman, Head of Digital, AJR Refugee Voices Testimony Archive, UK
This project was generously supported by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account and the School of Media, Arts and Humanities, and the in-kind support of all of the project partners (the support from the University of Bern was enable by generous funding from the Alfred Landecker Foundation).