By Jenna Zucker
For most of my childhood, my grandmother was quiet about what happened to her during the Holocaust. When I finally approached her about what life was like when she was young, she came to life with stories, including her years in Europe during the Holocaust. I have since been writing my grandmother’s biography and have been continuously thinking about what it means to uncover experiences so horrific for my grandmother and family.
The Last Goodbye, a virtual reality survivor testimony experience produced by USC Shoah Foundation, allowed me to reach beyond the spoken and written word and share an experience with a Holocaust survivor. While virtually walking with Pinchas Gutter, the Holocaust survivor who guides us through his last return to Majdanek death camp, I felt like I was experiencing both the past and the future at the same time: Pinchas’ past along with the future of Holocaust education.
Pinchas and I walked through the barracks and I felt us move over creaks in the wood from one space to another. I was moved by the chanting of Jewish prayer in a space where many lost their faith because of the inhumanity that was occurring, and was reminded of my grandmother describing for me how she prayed at Hanukkah with the women in her concentration camp barrack. I felt as though I was experiencing both Pinchas’ history and my grandmother’s at the same time. It was the first time I could feel my grandmother’s experience in a sensory way, feeling the barracks and rooms I have seen photos of or imagined.
Pinchas’ testimony through this new lens helped me understand that Holocaust survivor testimony will continue to be experienced by others even after the survivors are gone. The virtual reality experience, most of all, felt as if I was discovering a new form of storytelling that will expand the way we think about capturing narratives and reclaiming history.
Jenna Zucker is a Barnard College student who visited the Museum in October. Jenna is writing a book about her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor.