EMHOFF

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff interacts with the recorded biography of Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter at the University of Southern California campus in June. The biography is part of USC Shoah Foundation’s “Dimensions in Testimony” project, appearing in Aspen on Monday. 

An event on Monday at the Chabad Jewish Community Center will give visitors a chance to ask questions directly to Holocaust survivors who won’t even be there, and some who aren’t even alive.

The University of Southern California Shoah Foundation is hosting an open house to showcase their “Dimensions in Testimony” project, which through artificial intelligence-based holograms allow for full conversations with the subject. It’s the first of two events the foundation is having in Aspen, the second being a film viewing and discussion at the Isis Theatre on Tuesday.

Both have the purpose of keeping people informed and aware of the Holocaust, even as firsthand sources start to go away, said Kori Street, interim executive director for the USC Shoah Foundation.

“The power of testimony is that it connects us with the human experience,” Street said. “That firsthand account starts to layer on the human face to the numbers. Whatever you understand about the history is high-level, it’s often devoid of human experience. This restores that human experience.”

“Dimensions in Testimony” brings Holocaust survivors in for a week of interviews in front of a green screen, surrounded by a bubble of cameras, recording them from every angle. The footage is hoped to be used to generate full three-dimensional reconstructions of the subject. Already, the recordings are paired with an AI that can take in audio input — like a question — that selects the most appropriate response.

To date, the testimonies of 51 Holocaust survivors have been recorded in this format across seven languages and are on display, typically in museums, worldwide. Some of them will be made available for Aspen public consumption on Monday.

The agenda also includes a viewing of two family-friendly animated films discussing the Holocaust. “The Tattooed Torah,” based on a children’s book, was directed by Aspen resident Marc Bennett with the screenplay co-written by Bennett. Another local, Melinda Goldrich, served as executive producer. It is voiced by the prolific film and TV actor Ed Asner, who died last year. The book has been used for “generations” to teach children about the Holocaust.

“As filmmakers who strive to make a positive impact in the world, our goal with this film is to both educate our youth through ­stimulating this vital conversation, and to inspire them as they take on the responsibilities of the future,” Bennett said in a release.

The second film. “Ruth: A Little Girl’s Big Journey,” recounts the story of prominent author and therapist Ruth Westheimer’s departure from Nazi Germany as a child. It was produced by USC Shoah Foundation with Jodi Harris and Goldrich family member Barry Cayton executive producing.

Following the films, a panel featuring Bennett, “Tattooed Torah” screenplay co-writer Rabbi Brett Kopin, Harris and Street will be moderated by Aspen Film’s executive and artistic director, Susan Wrubel.

Street made clear that it’s Goldrich’s leadership and initiative that makes such exhibits in Aspen possible. Goldrich serves on the Shoah Foundation board. The event came to Aspen for “two or three years” prior to the pandemic and missed only 2020.

“Melinda’s just such an important person for us in terms of our service on our board and our executive committee, her leadership in Holocaust education and Holocaust memory and more broadly with the work she does with the museum in Los Angeles,” Street said. “Part of why Aspen is so important is because of the nature of the community that is so informed about the kind of work we’re doing. We find it’s a community that gives us a lot of feedback and a lot of good things to think about, but also because of the leadership of Melinda Goldrich.”

“Dimensions in Testimony” runs Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Chabad Jewish Community Center. The film screening is at Isis Theatre at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Registration to both events is free, with no cap on the open house and room remaining for the films. For the first event, registration is available on jccaspen.com and the second is available through aspenfilm.org.

The films also are available for viewing on the foundation’s IWitness platform on its website.

Rich Allen is a sports reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at rich@aspendailynews.com.