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STUDENT LIFEThe Past in the Presentby Dragontales StaffJANUARY 27, 2022 - 3 MIN READHKIS Students “speak” to Holocaust survivors through Dimensions in Testimony, a virtual reality program brought to HKIS by the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre. Scroll down to read some student reflections on the experience.How do you bring events from 80 years ago to life? Technology has an answer.
  
In January, Middle and High School students “spoke” to Holocaust survivors Pinchas Gutter and Olga Horak through artificial intelligence (AI). Through extensive interviews with survivors, the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation built AI software to answer questions about the Holocaust. This created a wealth of stories and experience for participants to explore: Students face a screen with video of the survivor, and ask questions into a microphone, and watch as their questions are answered. This creates what feels like a genuine conversation between the survivor and student.

The results are moving: Because students ask questions that are authentic to them, they receive answers that felt personal. This is far from a gimmick, but rather led to students feeling some of the emotion of the experience. On top of that, because the students are steering the conversation, it becomes a personalized learning experience. The Shoah Foundation explains that learning about the Holocaust this way is more profound because the student is delving deep into what resonates most to them: “It’s about you, about what you want to know. Conversation allows you to learn in a way that most suits your interests, and that’s where the deepest learning takes place…The questions that students have is what’s driving the learning experience, and so we know that this is important, because we are going to enable them to learn through their own curiosity.”

Thank you to the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre for bringing this impactful experience to HKIS.

Conversation Starter: Ms. Wheatley moderates as students ask their questions to Holocaust survivors using AI and get their answers in real time.Read some student reflections below from students in Grade 10
“Rather than reading facts and statistics about the Holocaust, hearing the actual experiences from a first-person point of view can help us understand how it impacted human beings. These responses are usually rich with detail and meaning... First-hand events are also the most emotional, and as an audience, we can empathize with the victims more.”

Anita Qian
...“I learned that even the smallest of acts of kindness and compassion can get you through the toughest of moments. Pinchas said that he got the strength to keep believing because of his childhood and the love that he received from his family. The small moments of being together and supporting each other were enough for him to get through the horrors of the concentration camps and continue to believe that there is good in the world.”

Katy Wan

...

“I think it’s very important to learn from people who have been through historic events because it shows the severity of the war. When learning and reading about wars it’s so easy to only look at the number, but numbers can’t express how much despair and tragedy occurred. Behind every number is a person, who has a mother and a father, siblings, family, friends, and a future that was robbed of them. It is especially important to learn about events such as the Holocaust because there is still so much ongoing prejudice and racial hate that occurs today. Knowing about events such as the Holocaust is crucial to one’s learning as it gives them more context to why it’s so important to support movements such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. Everyone must understand the roots of this hate to know the signs of genocide, to act as a whistleblower to make sure events like the Holocaust never repeat themselves again. “

Faith Yih

...

“The Holocaust happened decades ago, and it’s important that stories like these are not forgotten. Even though I have the privilege where I could never say I endured something that severe and traumatic, I still believe that it is essential to humanity that we have first-hand accounts of events like the Holocaust because it is important that we ensure our world keeps changing for the better. And because every person that was murdered in the holocaust is an individual. Imagine taking an individual human life. It is ultimately for the better of the world that we remembered events like these.”

Nicola Wong

“Something that surprised me was the various different personalities of different survivors, as some survivors would not talk about their experience of the Holocaust at all, while other people are eager to share their experience, so that something like this would not happen again.”

Harold Kwong
...“Interviewing the two survivors, Pinchas and Olga, you can hear their emotions, you can feel what they have been through, and from the Holocaust we can try to understand the error that went wrong in the thinking of the Germans, to prevent it. If we don’t learn from our mistakes [we will keep] making the same mistakes.”

Donald Ng

Find out more about the Hong Kong Holocaust and
Tolerance Centre at www.hkhtc.org.