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Exhibition allows visitors to step inside Holocaust horror

On 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation, a Virtual Reality project gives insight to visitors

05 February, 2020 — By Helen Chapman

Paul Tennent from the University of Nottingham with VR headset

A mixed-reality experience which enables visitors to enter a photograph taken in the Warsaw Ghetto is part of events held this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Eye As Witness exhibition, at the South Hampstead United Synagogue, features technology merging virtual and augmented reality – where users transition from a gallery setting into a Nazi propaganda photograph.

It also features images taken in a Nazi concentration camp and smuggled outside in toothpaste tubes.

The project is a collaboration between the National Holocaust Centre and Museum (NHCM) and Nottingham University.

Professor Maiken Umbach from the University of Nottingham at the exhibition

Professor Maiken Umbach, from Nottingham University, said: “We know how important it is to listen to the voices of the victims and the Holocaust survivors’ testimonies. But we haven’t brought that same insight into photography.”

Marc Cave, interim chief executive of NHCM, said: “We are all about communicating the memory of the Holocaust for a contemporary purpose. This is not a history lesson.

“This is designed to make you think critically about not just the words of fake news, we are all familiar with the concept and we know not to trust Cambridge Analytica, but we are not quite so adept at questioning images.”

The team worked with Holocaust survivors to share testimonies of their experiences and give feedback on the technology used in the exhibition.

Professor Umbach added: “What this exhibition does is draw attention to the important Jewish perspective – or the other groups that were persecuted by the Nazis.

“People went to great lengths and enormous personal risk to their lives to make their own records of life in ghettos, of deportations. It was sometimes smuggled out in toothpaste tubes or buried in the ground in hope that future generations might find it.”

Louise Stafford, head of learning at the NHCM, said: “For many years we have had daily survivors of the Holocaust come to the centre to share testimonies.

“We know how engaging and how impactful that experience is on young people but we are also acutely aware we are approaching a post-survivor age of Holocaust education and I think that it is incumbent on us to look really critically at what our Holocaust education needs to be moving forward.”

Supported by the Arts Council England, the exhibition at South Hampstead United Synagogue, in Eton Road, closed last Thursday and will be touring UK venues including the Imperial War Museum

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