3-D holograms preserve Holocaust survivor stories in Skokie exhibit

People stand at the entrance of the Take A Stand Center at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center on October 26, 2017 in Skokie, Illinois. / AFP PHOTO / Joshua LottJOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images ORG XMIT: Holocaust


Fritzie Fritzshall knows she is running out of time.

She knows the day will come when she won’t be here to describe being herded onto a boxcar, hearing the cries that turned to whimpers that turned to the silence that signaled another death. And she won’t be able to tell of the doors opening to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, where an old prisoner, as he unloaded the dead, whispered to her in Yiddish to lie to the guards about her age. That lie kept her out of a line to the gas chambers.

Preserving her story is why she’s on stage, or at least a three-dimensional likeness of her is on stage, at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie.

Fritzshall is one of 13 Holocaust survivors who tell their stories through holographic images that invite the audience to ask questions, creating what feels like a live conversation.

The interactive display is the latest version of an exhibit that’s been shown at a handful of sites including New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. But those exhibits were two-dimensional, with survivors appearing as they would on a movie or television screen. The exhibit in Skokie marks the first time that the voice-recognition technology powering conversations with audiences has been married to 3-D holographic technology to tell survivors’ stories.

“We are the first in the world to have this and show it like this,” said museum CEO Susan Abrams. “We will be working with the Shoah Foundation to license this globally so that it can be seen by as many people as possible.”

The holographic theater is part of the Skokie museum’s new Take a Stand Center. It’s the result of a three-year, $5 million project using New Dimensions Testimony technology developed by the Shoah Foundation. The foundation, based at the University of Southern California, grew out of an effort by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg to preserve as many survivors’ stories as possible.

For her part, Fritzshall spent a week in Los Angeles in a studio, one of three in the world like it, surrounded by a 3-D camera system. She answered some 2,000 questions about a life that was shattered one night in Czechoslovakia when German soldiers pounded on the door and told her family at gunpoint they had 15 minutes to pack and leave.

On stage, Fritzshall’s holographic image nods, tilts her head and appears to listen as someone in the auditorium asks a question. Stumping her is next to impossible, thanks to technology that turned her responses to those 2,000 questions into 30,000 answers, Abrams said. Fritzshall not only provided horrific details about her two years in Auschwitz, but if a child asks about her favorite color or food, the hologram can answer those too. She has even sung a song.

But mostly, what audiences see is a woman going back in time.

“When I am sitting in that chair I am back on the train, I am afraid,” Fritzshall said in an interview. “I see the women holding infants, dead infants … I’m watching the entire scene at Auschwitz. I’m watching my brothers leave me, I’m hungry and cold and I see the trains coming in day in and day out.”

In the exhibit, she describes being herded into a Jewish ghetto and from behind a fence, seeing neighbors she thought were her friends ridiculing her. To this day she does not understand how people who were friends one day could turn on her family the next. She recalls arriving at Auschwitz with two younger brothers who disappeared forever. She speaks of the confusion of the “separation,” where prisoners were ordered into this line and that line, and the moment she told her mother she was in the wrong line, not knowing she was sending her mother to her death.

“I didn’t know,” she whispers in the auditorium, a tiny echo of what her holographic image is saying on stage, both of them sounding like the 13-year-old girl she was on that day more than 70 years ago.

“I have carried this for all this many years the guilt of my mother, that maybe she would have lived had I not sent her into that line,” she says after leaving the auditorium.

At Auschwitz, she says, women who were slowly starving to death pressed a tiny piece of the sliver of bread they received each day into her hand, in exchange for a promise that if she lived, she would tell others what had happened.

“I am leaving this behind for people five years from now, 10 years from now, 50 years from now … so that the world can remember what happened to us, so it cannot ever happen to anyone else,” she said.

She and others at the museum say preserving these stories is especially important in the current U.S. political climate, when emboldened hate groups are taking to the streets wearing swastikas and shouting Nazi slogans, as they did in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.

“Charlottesville totally brought that fear back into me,” said Fritzshall. “I see that and I think what happened to me can happen to your children, your grandchildren if I don’t speak out.”

If You Go

TAKE A STAND CENTER: Illinois Holocaust Museum, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie.  Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursdays until 8 p.m. Adults, $12; seniors and students $8; children 5-11, $6. Separate free tickets required for survivor hologram exhibit in Take a Stand theater.

DON BABWIN, Associated Press

"8000 North" twelve-story high-rise development proposed for suburban Skokie

After spilling into neighboring Evanston, Chicago’s rental apartment boom is looking to leapfrog one village north to suburban Skokie, Illinois. Last week, co-developers Greenspire Capital, Pontarelli & Company, and Hoffman Homes publicly unveiled their plan for a 12-story mixed-use development at the northwest corner of Lincoln Avenue and Oakton Street.

Previously home to the Desiree restaurant, the site is roughly a half mile west of the Oakton-Skokie stop of the CTA’s Yellow Line. Since Desiree’s closure, Village officials have been keen to bring new life to the vacant corner and had issued a formal request for proposals for the parcel earlier this spring.

The design of the so-called ‘8000 North’ development comes from Chicago-based architecture firm Lucien Lagrange Studio and features a somewhat traditional exterior with curved balconies and ornamental railings. The stacking plan calls for ground floor retail, 153 rental apartments, and green roof space with communal amenities. Parking would fall to a new garage structure expected to serve both residential and public uses.

According to village staff, the project conforms to Skokie’s 2020 Plan for Downtown as adopted back in 2007. The development team hopes to head to the Village Plan Commission next month followed by two trips to the Village Board for final approvals in November and December. Provided that process goes well, occupancy is expected in late 2019.

Skokie’s Hebrew Theological College Sending 27 Volunteers To Houston To Assist in Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

A group of local high-school students are bringing faster help to Harvey victims, by flying in for hands on assistance. Close to two dozen high-school seniors, along with college chaperones and staff, from Skokie’s Fasman Yeshiva High School are volunteering several days this week to assist Houston’s Jewish community with hurricane relief efforts.

“While many people are trying to get out of the Houston, Gulf Coast area — we’ll be going in,” said Yehoshua Kalish, a 12th grader that lives in Chicago. There are six students at Fasman Yeshiva High School from Houston that were prevented from making it to Skokie for the start of the academic year, which commenced the final week of August.

The storm has created havoc in south Texas as the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental United States with torrential rain and damaging winds. The students will be helping remove flood damaged items in homes, sorting clothing, sanitizing and removing debris.

“We’re all here to do the job, and we’re anxious to get to work” said Rabbi Joshua Zisook, HTC’s Director of Admissions who is coordinating the trip along with CEO Rabbi Shmuel Schuman. Both Rabbi Schuman and Rabbi Zisook will be joining the student delegation.

The group from Skokie will be leaving O’Hare Airport on Wednesday morning and returning Friday morning. The volunteer efforts are being arranged with members of the Jewish community in Houston, Texas in partnership with the Orthodox Union who launched a fundraising campaign to help those impacted by the flooding. Hebrew Theological College has also made housing arrangements on their Skokie campus for Texas residents needing temporary accommodations.

Oakton Community College’s Skokie campus adds renewable energy source

A roof-mounted system, consisting of approximately 80 solar panels, is a new addition to Oakton’s Skokie campus.

When Oakton Community College President Joianne Smith signed the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge in December 2015, the college joined more than 200 higher education institutions dedicated to climate action. One of Oakton’s commitments as part of that pledge was recently realized with the addition of a 25-kilowatt photovoltaic array at its Skokie campus, 7701 N. Lincoln Ave.

Installation of the roof-mounted system, consisting of approximately 80 solar panels, was completed on June 20. In its first month, the system has generated five megawatt hours of energy, enough to power approximately 15,000 light bulbs for one day. This use of solar power has already prevented roughly 3,700 kilograms of carbon dioxide being released into the environment, equivalent to planting 201 trees.

“Incorporating renewable energy is one important way of reducing the college’s impact on the environment,” Oakton Sustainability Specialist Debra Kutska says. “It is also something that is of high value to our students, who regularly tell us this is an area they hope the college continues to pursue.”

In addition to the new solar array, the Skokie campus is home to a test system that is easily accessible for enrolled students and provides them with hands-on experience working with solar panels. Live data from the solar array will soon be incorporated into the college’s existing Energy Dashboard which can be found at www.oakton.edu.

Oakton’s commitment to sustainability is reflected in its mission, vision and values statement in addition to its strategic plan, “Success Matters.”

Oakton President Joianne Smith says, “We understand that we are part of a diverse ecosystem and that the sustainable use of resources is important not just for our operations, but for the community and the world.”

In March, the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN) recognized Oakton’s green commitment with the College Leadership and Sustainability Award. Recent efforts include the installation of a publicly available electric vehicle charging station at the Des Plaines campus, launch of a new environmental studies concentration, preservation and restoration of campus natural areas, diversion of more than 36 percent of waste from landfills and a student-led initiative to use refillable water containers and eliminate the sale of single-use plastic water bottles on campus.

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