A few years ago I headed the ISA delegation to Poland. More than 100 selected employees participated in this emotional and moving journey. For an organization such as ISA, which deals with sensitive issues of violating individual privacy and employing unique tools and capabilities, the journey to Poland is a time for personal and group reflection and introspection on numerous and diversified issues.
We are committed to maintaining our collective memory, to bequeathing our legacy to the younger generations, some of whom are members of the fourth (and in the future – fifth) generation since the Holocaust.
We are required to enlist technology and cyber to accomplish this task. It is an enormous challenge for a generation whose members are almost permanently connected to their smartphones, spend most of their time on Instagram and in various chats, live the moment and do not tend to delve into past events, photograph a story that disappears after 24 hours and are obsessive about ‘selfies’ but less interested in old photo albums.
State-of-the-art information technology, cyber, social media and the task of maintaining and bequeathing the collective memory of the State of Israel must be intertwined so that larger young audiences, speaking various languages and representing different cultures, will get to know, remember and pass on the lessons of the Holocaust, thereby maintaining the continuity of the generations and complying with the decree of “On that day you shall explain to your son.”
Throughout this initiative, we must maintain the highest standards and avoid any disrespect for the memory of the Holocaust, as we must bear in mind that this is not a computer game or an entertainment platform. We must also understand that the role of the teacher, guide and group leader should change and be adapted to the spirit of the times.
So What Can be Done?
Firstly, an operational concept and strategy for maintaining the memory and making it accessible to future generation should be consolidated. The concept and strategy should be developed in line with the primary objectives and desired educational and ethical messages. In addition to contents and instruction specialists and other professional experts, the project team should also include technology, information and instruction system specialists who are fully informed on the diversified capabilities and tools presented herein.
State-of-the-Art Information Systems with Diversified Retrieval Options
The project this article proposes should incorporate a number of information systems, as outlined below.
A state-of-the-art information retrieval system will enable the general public to promptly find any contents or bits of information in which they are interested. The information systems currently available are not sufficiently integrative. They do not cover the entire spectrum of interests and it is difficult to obtain the entire information through a “one-click” operation. For example, if we seek information about the Warsaw Ghetto, and specify the years of interest and even the names of relevant individuals – the search engine will deliver all of the relevant bits of information – written materials, personal testimonies, films, audio recordings, songs, poems, references to museum exhibits and so forth – all precisely in accordance with our inquiry. At present, none of the museums in Israel or around the world possess such information systems (Yad Vashem has a partial solution), and most search systems require a time-consuming process owing to the lack of data integration.
Geographical Information System (GIS)
A Geographical Information System (GIS) is an information system enabling data retrieval and analysis through integration of contents using layers of data. Many archives contain massive amounts of data regarding the population and area cells, as well as maps, architectural drawings and so forth. Collecting all of this information and fusing it could create layers of information that would offer unique learning options and insights regarding the population, specific area cells and significant “polygons.” This process will make the information accessible in a different format of a digital map made up of layers of diversified data and contents producing new insights, enlightening contents and different perspectives regarding events and processes, using innovative tools.
This information system presents the linkages between people as well as between people and institutions or other entities. Numerous organizations – including intelligence organizations – currently use such systems. A massive amount of data is currently available regarding families, relatives, the links that had existed between Holocaust victims and their murderers prior to the atrocities, the internal structure and human make-up of Jewish communities, specific towns, quarters and camps, genealogical maps extending from the distant past to these days and analyses of an extensive range of links and interactions that may be derived from the above. All of these options provide an amazing tool for understanding the connection of each and every one of us to our nation and national heritage. If a young boy or girl can access, with a single click, a map of the linkages of his family dating back decades into the past, and discover family ties he or she were not aware of – all in an interactive and visually attractive format – this will, undoubtedly, lead to a more profound connection between the individual and the community.
Virtual & Augmented Reality Capabilities
Virtual reality capabilities should be used to offer a unique learning experience of complex fields of interest. For example – the life of the Jewish community in Warsaw before the war. Through the use of virtual reality tools, we can offer an attractive, interesting and interactive learning experience for children and youngsters, by enabling them to undergo a realistic experience of life as it was at that time and place. Even today, a user can walk through a virtual reality program by answering knowledge questions as preconditions for keeping the activity going.
Augmented reality is a combination of virtual reality capabilities with the user’s actual environment. Through augmented reality capabilities, participants can see one another, communicate and even cooperate within the content environment. The story of the ghetto smuggler children can be one example where this technology may be utilized to ensure a high degree of solidarity with the various characters in the story on the part of the participants.
Black & White to Full Color
Black and white films, especially old films, are not attractive to youngsters and often for adults, too. Using state-of-the-art technologies, old black and white films may be “painted” in the authentic shades of those years. Color leaves a more lasting impression. It is more interesting and makes a more dramatic effect. Not all film contents should be in color, and the films available should be adapted to the characteristics of the participants.
Our living witnesses have passed the age of eighty and, regrettably, their number decreases as time goes by. A hologram combined with artificial intelligence can provide a solution for keeping a dialog going between the witnesses and groups of youngsters and soldiers. Today, holograms are highly advanced in terms of their ability to be “human,” and through the use of artificial intelligence, the participants may engage in a dialog with the hologram of the witness – just as we did when we presented our questions to the living witnesses during the journey to Poland or during meetings at schools on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Applications & the Wisdom of the Crowd
A smart, accessible mobile app will enable children to roam around the museum or site with their earphones plugged into their mobile phones, listen to explanations, answer questions, participate in a knowledge quiz and interact with some of the exhibits and characters – all through an automated system integrating technologies of locating and positioning within the exhibition or presentation.
Mobile apps offer many other usable functions. One of these functions is the use of this technological platform as a "wisdom of the crowd" tool for the public, through which anyone can enrich the existing database, documents and exhibits through photographs, films and audio recordings available to their families and relatives.
These examples are only a small selection of the capabilities already available. Naturally, anything written and documented about the memory of the Holocaust is just as important as our ability to remember and illustrate the bravery of Israeli warfighters killed in various operations before and since the establishment of the State of Israel. In my opinion, the field of commemoration will also benefit from innovative and modern initiatives.
Technology makes it possible to enhance and upgrade diversified contents and matters. Proper use of the various capabilities currently available, effective management and control of the processes and gradual implementation subject to trial and feedback could yield high-quality results for the entire context of Holocaust remembrance.
Unfortunately, conservatism and concerns prevent the introduction of cutting-edge technology and information/cyber systems into new fields of activity. The hindrances preventing the advancement of these activities are human primarily. We should break through those hindrances, which often stem from the generation gap and from concerns that technology might lead to disrespect for the contents or undermine the status of the guide or teacher. For these reasons, it is important that the innovative processes suggested herein be managed in a measured and controlled manner and through a cooperative effort of all of the parties involved in this important undertaking.
Arik Brabbing ("Harris"), formerly the Head of the ISA Cyber Division, served as head of the ISA delegation to Poland in 2014