How the survivors rebuilt their lives
Two generations on, the memory and understanding of the Nazi Holocaust are fading away as the survivors die. But an interactive CD-Rom from Israel is bringing the immediate aftermath of this traumatic period of human history to life for the grandchildren's generation, thanks to an initiative by Yad Va'shem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.
Return to Life doesn't dwell on the horrors of the mass murders of six million Jews, as well as many others in eastern Europe, but emphasises the struggle of the survivors to re-build their lives after they were liberated from the Nazi concentration camps.
The disc, aimed mainly at schoolchildren in the last two years of elementary school, illustrates how members of their grandparents' generation, successfully re-built their shattered lives, in Israel, the United States and elsewhere, and took part in the building of the post-war world.
The CD-Rom has been produced by the International School for Holocaust Studies of the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority (Yad Va'shem's official name) in conjunction with a local multimedia company, Icons.
Completed with the help of PhD students Guy Meirom, Amos Goldberg and Doron Avraham, it cost Pounds 190,000 to make, most of it donated by Canadian businessman Leslie Dan.
Project director Avraham Milgram says that they tried "to understand what happened to the survivors after the Holocaust". "The Holocaust is part of Israel's national ideology; it is part of the reason we built the state at all. We live it more intensively than people abroad. From 1983 onwards, pupils have had to study the Holocaust for 30 hours over a one or two-year period in high school."
The CD-Rom is built around six chapters - on liberation, loss, shame, loneliness, where the survivors would go next and their dilemmas. Videos of individual survivors bring them to life as they tell their experiences. The database section contains an impressive selection of background text, maps and other information.
Although originally envisaged as a project taking six months to produce a multi-media presentation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the the Second World War, the making of Return to Life turned into two years' work.
Milgram knew that "the story of the Jews would not appear" in the celebrations of the anniversary in the countries victorious. "We wanted to tell the story of the aftermath of this terrible war," he said recently.
Despite the celebrations taking place around them after the war, Jewish survivors felt torn apart by their losses. In the words of one liberated concentration camp survivor: "I didn't want to take part in the rejoicing. For us, the victory came too late."
According to Milgram, "The main educational message is that people who suffered at the hands of the Nazis discovered the human energy to re-build themselves. After the Nazis tried to make them sub-human, people tried to return to life: to have children, to begin to learn again, to gain those lost years."
The advantage of this new interactive, multi-media program is that in addition to the story line and database, it enables pupils to copy pictures and text into their own history and other projects, thereby becoming a valuable educational resource.
A Hebrew version of Return to Life is also available from Yad Va'shem for Pounds 28 (149 shekels)