Holocaust Educational Trust Blog

A space for featured guest bloggers and members of the Holocaust Educational Trust team to comment and reflect on timely issues.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2015: A Digital Commemorative Space

As the Holocaust Educational Trust launches our new 70 Voices: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders app, Head of Education Alex Maws explores the role of mobile technology in remembering the Holocaust.

At the Holocaust Educational Trust, we often take teachers and students to places of memory: authentic Holocaust sites, memorials and museums. We have also helped to organise and been involved with countless commemorative events – in schools, places of worship and government offices. I’ve witnessed so many different approaches to commemorating the events of the Holocaust. Who can say what are the “right” or “wrong” ways to do this?

Not me. I do, however, have personal preferences. My favourite approaches are those which force the audience to engage and to interact. For me, commemoration shouldn’t be a passive act. This was the thinking behind the development of 70 Voices: Victims, Perpetrators and Bystanders, the Holocaust Educational Trust’s new digital commemoration project.

The project takes the form of an app for smartphones and tablets, which reveals new thought-provoking information to the user each day over 12 weeks. We wanted to create a unique form of commemoration that wasn’t just a one-off. We asked ourselves: how can we go about encouraging people to really incorporate the act of remembering into their lives?

In a world of Candy Crush and selfies, mobile technology may strike some people as rather frivolous – not a platform for serious engagement with truly horrific events of the past. I don’t share that view. I think we need to communicate with people using whichever media they prefer, using whatever tools are available, and wherever we may find them. For better or for worse, the “space” where we are going to find the most people today is on their mobile phones and tablets.

Choosing this format for our unique form of commemoration also enabled us to ensure that it is incredibly rich in historical detail. The history of the Holocaust goes in numerous geographical directions; and it involves a diverse range of actors with differing experiences, motivations and choices available to them. Embracing technology enabled us to embrace the historical complexities as well.

This complexity, the ability of 70 Voices to provoke and challenge those who use it, is what makes this commemoration so unique. I suspect a few people will raise an eyebrow at our decision to include perpetrators and bystanders amongst our “voices”, but we felt strongly that you can’t commemorate something that you don’t actually have any meaningful knowledge of in the first place. And when it comes to understanding Holocaust, this absolutely must involve a consideration of both the “choiceless choices” faced by victims as well as the moral decisions made by perpetrators.

I am very proud of my colleagues who worked tirelessly to bring this project to life. Special thanks go to Education Officer Martin Winstone, whose in-depth historical research is at the heart of 70 Voices, and to our Project Manager Kirsty Young for keeping everything on track.

I very much hope that you will join in this experience over the next several weeks and share it with others online using #70Voices. Together we can create a new, uniquely digital form of commemoration.

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