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Miami-based Holocaust survivor records hours of his life's story for interactive exhibit

David Schaecter.JPG
Verónica Zaragovia
/
WLRN
David Schaecter is a Holocaust survivor who lives in Miami-Dade County.

A Holocaust survivor who lives in Miami-Dade County has been spending this week retelling his life story for footage that will become an interactive biography for an upcoming museum in Boston.

David Schaecter hails originally from what was Czechoslovakia. He survived four concentration camps and escaped from a train that was taking him to another camp in November of 1944, but his father, mother and three siblings died in the camps. After the war, he spent six years in Europe before he moved to the U.S. in 1950.

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It won't be long before survivors, like Schaecter, who witnessed and experienced the harrowing 'final solution' of Nazi Germany, will have died. Soon, he'll be able to talk to anyone about his Holocaust experience long after his death.

The USC Shoah Foundation — shoah is the Hebrew word for Holocaust — is behind a technology that creates a hologram-like projection of a survivor. The foundation calls this "Dimensions in Testimony."

To do it, Shaecter, who's 93 years old, sits everyday across from Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust educator, who asks him questions.

Schaecter said he still has energy to speak about his life because he wants as many children as possible to listen. "I want them to be my mouthpiece," he said. "To tell the story that they heard me telling them when I’m no longer. That's my purpose."

"Children need to know that there's so much ugliness," he continued. "Children need to know that they mustn't just stand by."

Jody Kipnis, who co-founded The Boston Holocaust museum with her partner, Todd Ruderman, switched careers from being a dental hygienist to Holocaust educator after a trip to Auschwitz with Schaecter some years ago on the March of the Living program. She said the experience brought her to tears, and she saw how Schaecter's primary interest was talking to young students during the trip to Poland.

Because soon children will not get to interact with Holocaust survivors, Kipnis wants this life-like experience to help teach them against hate. "We decided that Boston really needed this museum," Kipnis said.

The museum, which is expected to open in 2025, is located on Boston's Freedom Trail. Her partner, Todd Ruderman, is a business partner of Schaecter, and that's why this interactive biography will go to Boston.

"We really need to teach the next generation how to stand up not just against anti-semitism, but for anybody who’s different than yourself," Kipnis said.

Ryan Fenton-Strauss, director of media and archives at the
USC Shoah Foundation, said that sometimes the technology is distracting. This effort really comes down to providing a personal interaction with survivors and witnesses.

"Really we're trying to foster empathy, understanding and respect, and through the educational use of testimonies," Fenton-Strauss said. "That's why we're here and we’re trying to harness all this technology to do good."

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care for the station. Verónica has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master's degree in journalism. For many years, Veronica lived out of a suitcase (or two) in New York City, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, D.C., San Antonio and Austin, where she worked as the statehouse and health care reporter with NPR member station KUT.