Visited Thursday 23 November 2023
Reviewed by Emily Chung
The word reverberations means “a sound that lasts for a long time, that spreads and affects a lot of people”. It is a fitting name for a moving exhibition at the Sydney Jewish Museum that shines a light on and preserves the memories of Holocaust survivors, using cutting-edge technology.
‘Reverberations: A Future for Memory’ was developed over the course of four years, and uses technology pioneered by the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation. The exhibition begins with an explanation that Holocaust survivors share their stories for many different personal reasons, such as to find closure, educate younger generations, and to disprove Holocaust deniers. However, they share two common goals: to honour lost loved ones and to contribute to the documentation of the Holocaust. As a history student, this resonated with me, as verbal testimonies are an extremely valuable type of source which allow historians to understand the people involved in major historical events. Furthermore, it is explained that the exhibition is a glimpse into how the people of the future will interact with Holocaust survivors and learn about their experiences, during a time when there are sadly no more survivors left.
Tucked away in a corner of the exhibition are three screens, which each display a life-sized survivor. Museum visitors can stand in front of the screens and ask them anything they want, which is possible because of the 23 cameras used to film the project and 800-1000 questions asked of each survivor. I asked questions such as, “What was life like before the war?”, “How old were you when the Holocaust began?”, and “Can you forgive?” The use of artificial intelligence meant that they responded to virtually any question with a detailed answer. The technology was fascinating and worked almost seamlessly, although there were a few small, occasional glitches. The experience was strikingly realistic, thanks to the clarity of the audio and visuals. This opportunity to gain a personal insight into the perspectives and stories of Holocaust survivors, some of whom have passed away, was riveting and poignant.
I was able to talk to the late Eddie Jaku, who told me how he identified as “German first, German second, and Jewish at home” before the war. He also talked about how he does not hate anyone – instead, he dedicates his life to spreading goodwill and promoting peace. His story was touching, and after speaking to him, I felt inspired by his courage, positivity, and resilience.
In the centre of the exhibition, photos of 35 Holocaust survivors and short descriptions of their experiences during the Holocaust line the walls. Reading about their journeys and why they decided to generously share their testimonies was eye-opening. Many survivors were touched by the reactions of visiting schoolchildren after they told them about their experiences, whilst others wanted to ensure that no-one would ever have to be subjected to the horrors of an event such as the Holocaust again. The number of stories I read is a testament to the museum’s dedication to giving history a voice.
In addition to the three interactive screens, museum visitors can watch recordings of interviews with other Holocaust survivors. In these interviews, survivors answer questions including, “Do you want revenge?”, and “What was the transition to life in Australia like?” In these engaging interviews, survivors shared memories from the post-war years and told anecdotes about settling into life in Sydney.
The Sydney Jewish Museum, founded in 1992 by Holocaust survivors who started new lives in Sydney after the war, describes itself as a place to share stories, warn against evil, and promote democracy and freedom. ‘Reverberations: A Future for Memory’ is a poignant, interactive exhibition that reminds visitors about the importance of humanity and history, preserves the memories and testimonies of survivors, and reflects the museum’s values and aims. I found the experience to be insightful and moving, and I highly recommend a visit before it closes on March 31.
The ‘Reverberations’ Exhibition is on now until March 31 2024, at the Sydney Jewish Museum. Find out more by clicking here.