In April 2012 I traveled to Poland as part of a young adults delegation on the International March of the Living, an annual week-long Holocaust education program that culminates on Yom HaShoah with the joining together of all participants globally for a powerful three kilometer walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau. More than 10,000 people from over 50 countries partake in the March, all wearing matching blue jackets to form a visual representation of survival and remembrance: an affront to the Nazi’s failed plan to annihilate the Jews.
My delegation was accompanied by Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter. As we visited former sites of Jewish life—restored synagogues that date back to the Middle Age, notable Jewish cemeteries, and abandoned shtetls—Pinchas recounted stories from his childhood and sang us songs. And when we visited the death camps and memorials to those murdered, Pinchas told us of how he endured the Warsaw Ghetto and Majdanek death camp.
My group and I bore witness to the landmarks of the Holocaust and our program educator provided the historical context along our physical journey. But it was the memories conveyed from Pinchas himself, that brought authenticity to our experience, bonding us through a personal connection to those sites and the horrific events that transpired there.
On September 13th I had the privilege of attending the Museum’s 20th Anniversary Celebration where I had an early peek at New Dimensions in Testimony℠, a new interactive exhibition that allows visitors to engage in a virtual conversation with lifelike displays of Holocaust survivors, one of whom is Pinchas. To my delight, Pinchas was present for the event that evening and I had the opportunity to reconnect with him and express how his personal testimony made such a profound impression on our group. As he spoke about the installation’s creation process, how he sat through hours of interviews surrounded by dozens of cameras to create a three-dimensional version of himself, I thought about our trip five years earlier. Did I ask enough questions? Can I recall all of the details of his incredible survival? I don’t have to wonder—I can return to the Museum to ask the virtual Pinchas to tell me again.