Interact with Holocaust survivors via unique virtual experience at Illinois Holocaust Museum

“What do we do when they’re gone?” That’s a question that’s been asked frequently at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center; 72 years after the end of World War II, many Holocaust survivors are now passing away. And since encounters with survivors tend to be the most meaningful part of any visit to the museum, staff decided to find a way to preserve that legacy after these unique individuals are gone.

That’s where the Take a Stand Center was born. The result of more than three years of work, the center is designed for ages 11 and up.

Its centerpiece is the Abe & Ida Cooper Survivor Stories Experience, a chance for visitors to hear from real Holocaust survivors with the help of 3-D holographic technology. Thirteen Holocaust survivors–including seven from the Chicago area–worked with a team of filmmakers at the University of Southern California to record their memories. Interviewers catalogued the thousands of most-asked questions for Holocaust survivors, creating a truly interactive experience that is the first of its kind in the world.

The docent-facilitated experience allows visitors to ask questions–everything from “Do you have any pets?” to the more topical “What was it like in a concentration camp?”–and the survivor to respond in real time. If the question is too off-the-wall, the survivor will redirect the conversation, but Kelley Szany, director of education for the museum, says it doesn’t happen very often.

The Survivor Stories Experience is a free, timed-ticket session, but you won’t have to twiddle your thumbs while you wait. The rest of the Take a Stand Center is equally inspiring and well-conceptualized. The Goodman Upstander Gallery features 40 individuals, called “upstanders,” who have fought against injustice and stood up for worthy causes, from Malala Yousafzai to Chicago’s own Jane Addams. Kids can also learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, and how the struggle for these same human rights continues today.

Then in the Take a Stand Lab, visitors can follow in the upstanders’ footsteps, choosing how they can stand up for what’s right, seeing success stories of others who chose that action (including kids from the Chicago area!), and making a pledge of how they will take action themselves. In addition, the Act of Art Gallery highlights art as a form of social action and activism, using the artists’ own words to discuss this important topic.

It all works together to address the question of what will happen when not only Holocaust survivors, but all the rest of us, are gone. And with these upstanders on the case, it’s nice to know that the future is in good hands.

If you go

Take a Stand Center

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Wednesday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday

Opens Oct. 29

Free with museum admission

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

9603 Woods Drive, Skokie

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