By Davina Pardo
Growing up in Toronto in the 1980s, I had a connection to Holocaust history that was direct, visceral and human. Each year, Holocaust survivors came to my school to talk about what they had experienced during the war. It wasn’t unusual for these survivors to be the grandparents of a classmate. Some of them had just begun telling their stories for the first time. I thought of my own grandparents, survivors from Poland who eventually immigrated to Montreal. They hardly ever spoke to me about what happened to them and the family members they lost. It was too painful for them to tell, and I was too afraid to ask.
Today, the Holocaust survivor population is diminishing quickly. Most survivors are now in their 80s or 90s. A few years ago, I started to think about a film about the last remaining Holocaust speakers, the people who have devoted their lives to describing a painful past, and what it might mean for that to come to an end — for them personally, and for us.
Then I read about the project “New Dimensions in Testimony.” The University of Southern California Shoah Foundation, known for its work preserving genocide survivor testimonies, had embarked on a new project: interactive three-dimensional recordings of Holocaust survivors, to allow people to continue speaking to them long after they are gone. I wanted to know more. How did survivors feel about this new technology? Could it really keep these interactions going? What would it feel like to have a conversation with a digital survivor?
Filming Eva Schloss as she participated in the project and told her story to the surrounding cameras, I didn’t find clear answers. I heard a woman painfully aware of the injustice lived by so many around the world today, still determined to share her story in case it might help someone, somewhere. I’m grateful to have had the chance to get to know Schloss in person. Nothing can replace her. But one day soon, I will take my kids to visit “New Dimensions in Testimony”: They will see an interactive, digital version of Schloss and they will ask her questions about her life. They will listen to her reflect on war, loss and social justice. And I hope a conversation will begin, and continue, as it did for me over 30 years ago.
Davina Pardo is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker based in Brooklyn. Her work has screened at festivals around the world, including Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca, True/False and Hot Docs.