Monday, October 30, 2017

Holographs at the Illinois Holocaust Museum's new Take A Stand Center

Last week I attended a preview of the newest addition to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, and it's really a game changer.

First off,  I'd never been to the museum before but had always thought about going.  It's in Skokie IL,  just off the highway, and it is pretty spectacular.  It's the third largest Holocaust remembrance center in the world (after Yad VaShem in Israel and  the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.

One of the great things about the museum, is that in addition to being committed to remembering the Holocaust, it's also committed to helping people create social justice in a number of areas.  Their new Take A Stand Center is proof of that.

As part of their $30 million dollar Commit to the Future Capital Campaign, they have installed a new part of the museum which they are calling the Take A Stand Center.  It's comprised of three unique interactive galleries that will hopefully move museum-goers from knowledge to inspiration to action.


The first and most prominent of the galleries is the Abe & Ida Cooper Survivor Stories Experience.   They have installed a 66 seat holographic theatre in the museum, where you can interact with the holograph of a Holocaust survivor.  In case you are wondering, yes, holograph.  It's a 3-dimensional representation of a Holocaust survivor, sitting in a chair, and the most astonishing thing is that he (or she) can take questions from the audience and answer them.

They will eventually have 13 survivors stories (7 from the Chicago area and 6 from places around the world including Israel, Los Angeles, Terre Haute Indiana, and the UK)available for display, and each holograph can take in questions from the audience.

Survivor Aaron Elster and his holographic doppelganger.
This is the first museum in the world to use this interactive three-dimensional technology.  Each survivor spent 6 days in the special studio in Los Angeles, surrounded by hundreds of high definition cameras and microphones for up to 6 hours a day, recording their stories so that they may be told and re-told for decades to come.

The technology is pretty spectacular, although it is new and still has some bugs-- when I saw it, there was a noticeable hesitation as the computer thought about the question, and in some cases, the answer didn't quite fit the question.  But this is cutting edge technology, and it's going to get smarter and better and even more amazing as time goes on.

Before each holographic interview, there is a 5-7 minute film of the story of the person's life, followed by the interview process.  At the preview that I saw, the man being interviewed was also there, and it was just amazing to see him and his holographic doppelganger interact with each other.

The plan right now is to have one survivor story on per month, and that you'd have to come back 13 months in a row to see and hear all of them.  (This may change, as they figure out how to best utilize this amazing new technology)


Marley Diaz and her lifesize photo.
Outside the theatre is their brand new Goodman Upstander Gallery, where they explore the lives and works of 40 historical and contemporary "Upstanders"  (as opposed to bystanders)  There are life-size story portals and digital interactive videos that tell you more about these upstanders and how they managed to make a difference.  Some of them are well known, such as Cesar Chavez, Billie Jean King, Malala, Nelson Mandela, and Gloria Steinem.  But many of the upstanders are not well-known personalities.

One of the upstanders that I met was a 12-year-old girl from New Jersey  (Marley Dias) who started a movement called #1000blackgirlbooks, which is a movement to collect and donate children's books that feature black girls as the lead character.  She started it in 2016 and she's already donated over 12,000 books to places that need them.  Marley was so poised and well-spoken and on top of stuff that I thought she was a college student.  But she's just 12!    She's got my vote for the 13-under-13 list, should anyone ever make one.

An example of one of the interactive displays.

There are lots of amazing and inspirational change quotes on the walls of the gallery.


Augmenting the three primary galleries of the Take A Stand Center is the Act of Art gallery which highlights art as a form of social action and activism. The gallery, which takes fine art through the lense of social activism, displays historical and contemporary artistic expressions reactions, and calls to action for social justice.  The plan is to display art not just about the Holocaust, but about all sorts of injustices, including Black Lives Matter, the Armenian genocide, the ethnic cleansing of the Balkan states, and others throughout time and history.

Here's an inspirational video that plays outside the TAKE A STAND CENTER by local poet Harold Green that gives a good idea about the act of art.


The final gallery is the Take A Stand Lab, which allows museum-goers to get involved, make a pledge to get involved and email themselves resources to help them get involved in the area that they are interested in.

 They have an older fashioned system where you can write your pledge and put it on the museum cork board, and they also have an electronic setup where you can tell the computer through a quiz what you are interested in doing and it will help you find ways to do that.  It was really great way to keep people involved in the good feelings and great inspirations of the previous gallery.

The other thing about it is that it shows how even doing one small thing can make a huge difference.  The most common objection to doing something good is "What good will my one lone action do"  Many of the stories told in this area show that  all large things that happen start with a small action.

All of this is in addition to the museum's already stellar offerings, including a gallery about the power of art to help make people understand social justice, a kid's area where younger kids can be introduced to the ideas of social justice and the chilling facts of the Holocaust in a non-graphic manner, and other exhibit space. 

(I walked through a great exhibit about music promoter Bill Graham (who was a Holocaust survivor.)  That exhibit has just been extended into January and is well worth checking out.

The absolute centerpiece of the museum and raison d'etre is a moving and far-ranging exhibit about the Holocaust, which features artifacts, movies, stories, newspaper articles, and other elements to tell the horrific story of the Holocaust. I did a walk through as part of the preview, and I need to go back and spend some more time in there.  It was moving and thought provoking, and not for younger kids.

The last image of the museum exhibit on the Holocaust is strangely hopeful.
My mother-in-law's cousin Hannah Messinger made this bra.

One of the most astonishing things there was an actual German rail car that was used to transport Jews to work camps.  I don't believe in ghosts, but it was haunted by the memories of the terrible things that transpired inside.  (And every museum-goer is given a choice of whether or not they want to go inside it.)

There's a personal connection to the museum as well,  My wife's mother's cousin's story and artifacts are displayed in the museum, including a bra that she made by stealing thread and fabric while inside a German work camp.

The Illinois Holocaust Museum is a stellar and must-see place to go.

If you are in the area, DO NOT MISS IT.

9603 Woods Drive Skokie, IL 60077 
phone 847.967.4800

Hours: Weekdays 10 AM – 5 PM
Thursday evenings until 8 PM
Weekends 10 AM – 5 PM

Adult Admission*: $15.00
Senior (65+): $10.00
Student (12-22): $8.00
Child (5-11): $6.00
Military personnel & up to 3 family members: 50% off
Members: Free


Paula Kiger said...

This is incredible, Adam. I hope I make it up there and get to see it in person someday.


Thanks Paula. It's a pretty remarkable place. Not only because of the technology, or the moving and informative exhibits. They take a tragedy, but they somehow give us at the end Hope. Not a small feat.