New, revolutionary technology, made possible in partnership with Bank of America, helps connect four local Holocaust Survivors with museum visitors
St. Petersburg, FL — The Florida Holocaust Museum (FHM) announced today that a cutting-edge new interactive exhibit, Dimensions in TestimonySM (DiT) from USC Shoah Foundation, will become part of The FHM permanent collection and on display as a permanent exhibition this fall, in large part thanks to a $100,000 commitment from Bank of America as a Founding Corporate Sponsor. Dimensions in TestimonySM is an initiative by USC Shoah Foundation to record and display testimony in a way that will preserve the dialogue between Holocaust Survivors and learners far into the future. Developed in 2010, Dimensions in Testimony combines ultra-high-definition filming and voice activation to allow a conversational and interactive experience between Holocaust Survivors and audiences. At its core, the Dimensions in TestimonySM program is another way to access and learn from Survivor testimony.
The four survivors featured in The FHM exhibition are the first in Florida to participate in the project. During April – May 2021, the award-winning curatorial and educational staff of The FHM, Interim Executive Director Erin Blankenship and Director of Education and Research Ursula Szczepinska, researched, captured, and preserved the testimonies of local Survivors Mary Wygodski, Helen Kahan, Ed Herman, and Betty Grebenschikoff. Grebenschikoff recently garnered national attention when she was reunited with her childhood best friend and fellow Holocaust Survivor after 80 years (https://nbcnews.to/3ha3Xkx).
Filming these four Holocaust Survivors during a pandemic required innovative solutions for all involved. Before COVID-19, Dimensions in TestimonySM filming took place in a special volumetric capture filming rig, with 23 4K cameras circling the interviewee in 360 degrees. The FHM team was the first to work with a new specially designed nine camera traveling system with staff from USC Shoah Foundation assisting via Zoom. “A global pandemic is no match for the ingenuity of two organizations as committed to preserving stories as USC Shoah Foundation and The FHM. Working with trusted partners at The FHM, we were confident that the expertise on both ends of the partnership would result in generations of learners throughout Florida benefitting from direct interaction with Holocaust Survivors,” said Dr. Kori Street, Senior Director of Programs and Operations at USC Shoah Foundation.
Filming took place at the University of South Florida St. Peterburg campus with local talent operating the cameras. Wygodski, Kahan, Herman, and Grebenschikoff each spent a full week in the studio answering thousands of questions about their unique experiences. Since most living Holocaust Survivors are in their 80s or 90s, the participating Survivors recognized the opportunity that Dimensions in Testimony offered and adapted to the technology needed to participate and share their stories. One of the local Survivors, Helen Kahan, celebrated her 98th birthday during the filming.
“Capturing the stories of these Holocaust Survivors and creating a means for future conversation is more important than ever, as opportunities to have a face-to-face conversation about the Holocaust with someone who lived through it become increasingly rare,” said Erin Blankenship, Interim Executive Director of The Florida Holocaust Museum. “It was an honor to be part of preserving their testimony so that future generations of students and visitors can continue to learn from these incredible people. Their diverse experiences share lessons of strength, resilience, and humanity that are inspirational.”
To support the funding of the DiT project, The Florida Holocaust Museum partnered with Bank of America. A long-standing corporate partner of The FHM, the project aligned with the bank’s values of diversity, inclusion, and inspiring meaningful dialogue.
“We believe in the power of the arts to help economies thrive, educate and enrich societies and create greater cultural understanding,” said Bill Goede, President, Bank of America Tampa Bay. “This exhibit provides a unique opportunity using revolutionary technology that will allow the community to speak with Survivors while encouraging them to reflect on the meaningful conversations.”
The Florida Holocaust Museum plans to work with USC Shoah Foundation to continue researching and recording testimonies of local Florida Holocaust Survivors to ensure their stories are available for generations to come. To learn more about the Dimensions in Testimony program and USC Shoah Foundation, visit https://sfi.usc.edu/dit.
About The Florida Holocaust Museum
One of the largest Holocaust museums in the country, and one of three nationally accredited Holocaust museums, The Florida Holocaust Museum honors the memory of millions of men, women, and children who suffered or died in the Holocaust. The FHM is dedicated to teaching members of all races and cultures the inherent worth and dignity of human life in order to prevent future genocides. For additional information, please visit www.TheFHM.org.
About Dimensions in Testimony
Dimensions in TestimonySM is an initiative by USC Shoah Foundation to record and display testimony in a way that will preserve the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners far into the future. Collaborating within the project are Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, with technology by USC Institute for Creative Technologies, and concept by Conscience Display. Funding for New Dimensions in TestimonySM was provided in part by Pears Foundation, Louis. F. Smith, Melinda Goldrich, and Andrea Cayton/Goldrich Family Foundation in honor of Jona Goldrich, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and Genesis Philanthropy Group (R.A.). Other partners include CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
About Bank of America
At Bank of America, we’re guided by a common purpose to help make financial lives better, through the power of every connection. We’re delivering on this through responsible growth with a focus on our environmental, social and governance (ESG) leadership. ESG is embedded across our eight lines of business and reflects how we help fuel the global economy, build trust and credibility, and represent a company that people want to work for, invest in and do business with. It’s demonstrated in the inclusive and supportive workplace we create for our employees, the responsible products and services we offer our clients, and the impact we make around the world in helping local economies thrive. An important part of this work is forming strong partnerships with nonprofits and advocacy groups, such as community, consumer and environmental organizations, to bring together our collective networks and expertise to achieve greater impact. Learn more at about.bankofamerica.com, and connect with us on Twitter (@BofA_News).
The following four individuals are the first Holocaust Survivors from Tampa Bay to be added to the Dimensions in TestimonySM interactive biography library.
Mary Wygodski (née Tabachowicz)
Born in Vilna, Poland (now Lithuania), in 1925. Mary had younger siblings: two sisters and one brother. Her father was a businessman, her mother was a homemaker. When the Nazis took over in 1941, the family was forced into the Vilna ghetto. Mary’s family lived in one room. During the ghetto liquidation, Mary was forcefully separated from her family. She would never see them again. She was sent to several concentration and slave-labor camps. Her father and brother were deported to the Klooga concentration camp in Estonia where they perished. Her mother and little sisters were murdered during the Vilna ghetto liquidation. After the liberation, Mary moved to Israel where she met her future husband. Eventually, the family moved to the United States where Mary worked as a kindergarten teacher. Mary is the sole survivor of her immediate family.
Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1931. During the Holocaust, Edward with his mother and sister were forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto. At great risk, his mother would leave the ghetto walls, and, passing as a Christian, she would buy food to bring back to her children. Eventually, she was able to pay a guide to have Edward cross over to Budapest, Hungary. In Budapest, he was abandoned by a Jewish man who was supposed to take care of him. Edward lived on the streets until an orphanage for Jewish children was formed. At the end of 1944, he was liberated. He was reunited with his mother after 3 years. His sister also survived. It took the family 10 years to reunite with Edward’s father. Most of Edward’s relatives died in the Holocaust.
Betty Grebenschikoff (née Kohn)
Born in Berlin, Germany in 1929. Betty had an older sister Edith. Betty’s birth name was Ilse. Her mother was a homemaker while her father worked as a salesman for a stationery company. The family spoke German at home and took part in German cultural life. They observed Jewish holidays and went to synagogue services. Betty and Edith went to a Jewish school. They did not experience any hostility before the Nazis came to power. The situation changed after 1933 when neighbors stopped talking to Betty’s family. Children experienced name-calling and physical violence. In order to escape Nazi persecution and a pending arrest of her father, the family looked for ways to leave Germany. Eventually, they emigrated to Shanghai, China in 1939. They settled in Hongkew, a poor section of Shanghai where most European Jewish refugees lived. The family had to learn English. Children attended a Jewish school. After the war, Betty met her future husband in Shanghai. The family then moved to Australia and finally settled in the United States in 1953. In the United States, Betty was reunited with her parents and sister.
Helen Kahan was born in Rozavlea, a little village in Romania. Her parents had 7 children. After completing her elementary school, Helen was unable to continue her education as, due to antisemitic restrictions, only 5 percent of Jewish children were allowed to attend high school. Eventually, Helen moved to Budapest, Hungary with her brother and worked as a seamstress. Her family first suffered under the Hungarian occupation, and then the German invasion. Helen returned home to help her parents with their young children. The entire family was sent to the ghetto and then deported to the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. Helen and her two sisters survived the initial selection. Eventually, she was transferred to the camps at Bergen-Belsen and then Lippstadt. Helen was put on a death march and was liberated by the Russians. After the war, she returned to Romania where she got married and had 2 children. She escaped from communist Romania with her family in 1967 and, after staying in Italy, immigrated to the United States. Of Helen’s immediate family, only one of her sisters and a brother survived the Holocaust.