Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Simplest, Most Powerful Interactive of All

I've been in what seems like hundreds of discussions about designing interactive elements in museums. Should we use technology? Should there be puzzles, or art supplies, or flip books? What do we want to convey to visitors? What age visitors will be interested? How will we evaluate them? What did we learn in the prototyping?

But this week I got to experience a different kind of interactive--an activity that was stunning in its simplicity and incredibly powerful in result. Above is my picture of Henry Greenbaum and Erika Eckstut, volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The interactive was just what the sign says--a chance to speak with these two Holocaust survivors about their experiences. They sit at a desk in the lobby, and talk to any visitor who wants to know more--school children, older people, international visitors. They--and other volunteers throughout the week-- tell their stories. Erika is from Czechoslovakia, survived attacks on Jews in her village, and then her family were forced to settle in the Czernowitz ghetto. Henry was born in Poland, his family forced to move to the Starachowise ghetto and then, to a labor camp, to Auschwitz, and then, a four month death march. Henry, his two brothers and one sister survived the Holocaust--his mother and the other five children all perished.

When I asked Henry why he volunteered, he said, "I am here just for myself." He works every Friday, and when I asked if there was something he particularly wanted young people to take away from a conversation with him, he said, "They should speak out. Don't let it happen to any human being," and referenced the museum's work in speaking out about genocide around the world today.

No touch screen, no flashing lights, just the most powerful interactive of all--conversation between two people.


blog reader said...

Wow! Talk about living history. We are always talking about how to bring a variety of voices and/or viewpoints into exhibits.

As they say in advertising, "Now--for a limited time only."

Christine said...

I'm so glad to see the Erika and Henry are still at the Museum every Friday to share their stories! I had incredible the pleasure of being an intern in the Survivor Affairs department at the USHMM in Washington DC back in 2004. I looked forward every day to going down to the Museum lobby and talking with the Survivor Volunteers who were there. But I will admit I looked forward to Fridays a little more knowing Henry would be there. Henry and Erika and her hillarious husband Donny would always have lunch with the staff of Survivor Affairs, and some of the best memories of my time at the Museum are from those Friday lunches. If you have the chance I implore you to visit the Museum and take the time to speak to any of the Survivor Volunteers, they have such powerful and amazing things to share with us, and sadly the time for them to share is running out. Don't miss out on a chance to speak with some of the most impactful people you will ever meet.

Linda Norris said...

Thanks Christine, for sharing a little insider view. It was great to meet them, and I'll long remember the conversation.