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Reverberations: A Future for Memory

  • Museums, History
  • Recommended
Two older people, Holocaust survivors
Photography: Supplied/Sydney Jewish Museum | Holocaust survivors

Time Out says

You can have a one-on-one conversation with ‘Happiest Man on Earth’ Eddie Jaku and other Holocaust survivors at this experience

When Eddie Jaku was 18 years old, he returned home from college to find his family home deserted. That night, he was taken from his bed by Nazi soldiers and transported to a concentration camp. His father managed to find him, but eventually, his whole family were taken to Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp. Several camps later, only Eddie and his sister survived.

Eventually, Eddie came to live in Australia, where in 2021, he died at the ripe old age of 101. Because he survived, Eddie made the vow to smile every day, becoming known as "The Happiest Man Alive" (which is also the title of his best-selling memoir). Thankfully, his story has been preserved at the Sydney Jewish Museum, where you can have "conversations" with Eddie and other Holocaust survivors. You can ask them anything you want, and hear their responses first-hand.

This is not an exhibition about the events of the Holocaust. It’s about people

The museum’s new exhibition, Reverberations: A Future for Memory is a moving encounter with history that feels very much alive. The museum was established by the generation of Holocaust survivors who came to Australia, and the surviving founders are still sharing their stories to this day. The new interactive experience came about because most of the survivors are in their nineties or older – so the museum team started brainstorming ways they could preserve their stories in innovative ways for future generations.

This resulted in an inspired application of artificial intelligence (AI). The team filmed interviews with survivors, asking 1,000 questions about their experiences, their lives in Sydney, their fears, what brings them happiness, sadness and everything in between.

The exhibition is now open to the public and, for the first time, visitors can have virtual (yet shockingly 'real') one-on-one 'conversations' with survivors. Museum visitors stand in front of a screen showing a life-sized person and can ask anything they want. Questions like, “Where were you born?”, “Are you still angry?”, “Is it difficult to talk about what happened to you?”, “Do you believe in God?” And, thanks to clever tech, they will respond.

The experience is stirring. It moved me to tears. The lifelike size and clarity of the recordings means the survivors appear real, as though they're right in front of you. Thanks to the emotion in their answers, and even more so, their facial expressions, this was the closest I've come to comprehending the horrors of the Holocaust and the concentration camps, the escape from cherished homelands, the murder of family members and, most importantly, the extreme dangers of prejudice. It’s a reminder that no matter how much time has passed, history will always be recent for those who survived.

“Our community of Holocaust survivors live with the constant and everlasting trauma of what they went through,” says Shannon Biederman, the museum’s senior curator. “Telling their stories to visitors, especially children, is often very painful, but they choose to endure this pain in the hope that listeners will learn lessons and stand up for peace, kindness and humanity.”

Reading about the Holocaust in a book or on the internet, listening to an audiobook, or watching a doco about what happened is nothing compared to being able to talk to the people who actually lived through it.

Generously, Eddie, who I mentioned earlier, along with 43 other survivors, agreed to be filmed for the exhibition before he died in October 2021. A conversation with Eddie, and the engaging way he talks about his experiences, reminds everyone about the importance of staying positive, no matter how brutal and devastating the world around you becomes.

In addition to these virtual conversations, you can sit and watch recordings of 40 other Australian Holocaust survivors – their videos run on high-def screens in another viewing room where you can just sit, listen and reflect.

This is not an exhibition about the events of the Holocaust. It’s about people. It’s about losing everything and beginning the process of rebuilding hope and a new life. 

It's an important exhibition and a reminder for us all about the importance of avoiding mistakes of the past. Take yourself, take friends and, most importantly, take kids. While you're there, say hi to Eddie for us.

Reverberations: A Future for Memory is open now at the Sydney Jewish Museum. You can purchase tickets here.

Alice Ellis
Written by
Alice Ellis


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