Artificial intelligence will allow pupils to ‘converse’ with Holocaust survivors

Artificial intelligence will allow pupils to continue conversing with Holocaust survivors even when they are no longer alive.

The technology for schools in the UK will aim to “immortalise” real Holocaust survivors and their stories through life-like conversations with pupils.

The programme has been launched at a time when antisemitism is rising in the country and the number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, who created the programme, said it is vital that young people learn about the Holocaust as conspiracy theories and misinformation continue to be spread on social media.

Manfred Goldberg, a holocaust survivor and the first survivor to feature in the Testimony 360 programme
Manfred Goldberg, a holocaust survivor and the first survivor to feature in the Testimony 360 programme (Holocaust Educational Trust/PA)

She told the PA news agency: “I think the challenge we’ve got with Holocaust education sadly is that there are people who deny the Holocaust, who distort the Holocaust, who use the Holocaust to make other points that they want to make, abuse the memory of the Holocaust.

“So this is also about holding it up and saying this is the experience of a real person and you can hear about it and see the site that they are talking about.”

Ms Pollock added that there had been an “explosion of antisemitism” in recent months – which includes “inappropriate use of Holocaust language”.

Currently, Holocaust survivors share their experiences with thousands of pupils every year, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for survivors who are in their 80s and 90s to travel across the country to speak to pupils first-hand and soon the Holocaust will no longer be in living memory.

But now speech-to-text recognition AI search technology, combined with a filming technique using a nine-camera rig, has created virtual 3D versions of Holocaust survivors which can answer 1,000 questions from pupils.

AI understands the question and then plays the survivor’s recorded answer to give pupils the feeling of a natural conversation with the Holocaust survivor.

Using virtual reality (VR) headsets, students will also be able to explore key sites linked to the survivor testimonies, including their pre-war home towns and the concentration camps where they were imprisoned.

It is hoped the technology will ensure that young people have memorable experiences learning about the Holocaust for generations to come.

Students at Sacred Heart Catholic School listen to Manfred Goldberg, a holocaust survivor and the first survivor to feature in Testimony 360
Students at Sacred Heart Catholic School listen to Manfred Goldberg, a holocaust survivor and the first survivor to feature in Testimony 360 (Holocaust Educational Trust/PA)

Ms Pollock told PA: “We’re just facing the reality that Holocaust survivors are getting older and frailer and fewer. They are in their later years.”

She added: “Let’s not wait till that moment where we don’t have anyone here. Let’s do it now and gradually embed this sort of programme in schools.”

Manfred Goldberg, who survived Stutthof concentration camp and a death march, is the first to feature in the programme for pupils across the UK.

The 94-year-old, who has shared his testimony with young people in hundreds of schools over 20 years, said pupils have told him in the past that hearing his story was “an experience of a lifetime” and it changed their lives.

Mr Goldberg, from north London, told PA: “That is a very powerful reaction and that is what keeps me going at my age to continue doing what I’m doing.”

He added: “I think one basic and highly important factor is the one we seem to have cracked now and that is that all these people for decades to come will be able to hear the words of a Holocaust survivor.”

Mr Goldberg spent five days being filmed within a green screen rig, from multiple angles at once using special volumetric capture cameras, and he answered more than 1,000 questions to ensure his virtual self could answer almost any question a student may pose about their experience of the Holocaust.

He said: “Never during those dark days of the Holocaust did I ever imagine that one day I would see myself, and my story, immortalised in this way.

“I have spoken to thousands of pupils over the years – perhaps now I will make it millions. If this is my legacy, it will be a truly remarkable one.”

The Testimony 360 programme was officially launched on Wednesday at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Camberwell, London.

Virtual testimonies from three other Holocaust survivors are set to be rolled out in schools from 2025.

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This new technology will help staff bring this vitally important topic to life for future generations of students and ensure they understand the significance of this period of history.

“Schools are doing all they can to combat the rise in antisemitism and other forms of prejudice, by teaching pupils about different faiths and how to build and maintain positive relationships with their peers. This technology will provide another tool with which to do this.

“However, schools are facing growing challenges as a result of harmful material and disinformation being posted on social media and need swift action to be taken to prevent this.

“The next government needs to stand up to the technology giants and ensure they stop hatred from spreading across society via their platforms.”

A Unesco report this week warned that generative AI could be used by bad actors to seed disinformation and antisemitism around the Holocaust.