A very important part of this project is the reconstruction of the historical environment. To do this, historical documents such as maps, photographs and drawings are compared and combined, together with interviews with surviving witnesses. One aim of this ongoing research is an updated model of the historical site and its changing states through the years. Another aim is to link the many separate memories, documents and their relative context to the modelled environment, creating a landscape of information that can be explored by visitors and researchers using a variety of applications.
Since decades, the Bergen-Belsen Memorial has conducted and collected interviews with surviving witnesses, building up a vast source for research and education about the Holocaust and the Bergen-Belsen camp. While indispensably important, these interviews as well as those from other similar institutions and initiatives are often not aimed at the recording of memories of the environment itself, or to the evocation of memories using an environment as aid or trigger. The description of an environment usually has just an occasional supporting role, like sounds, colours and smells; the main focus is on the events that happened and the effects they had on people.
In order to research, reconstruct and re-tell stories placed in a historical environment, it is necessary to collect more details about that environment – and especially while the only people that can provide such details are still alive. For this reason, we conduct interviews that place the environment in a more prominent role. On one hand we try to record memories – any memory, all testimonies are valuable, and most memories do not come in a preferred order – while on the other hand we try to obtain specific, comparable descriptions of a particular space at the time.
When doing the first of such interviews using a virtual version of the reconstruction, we discovered that just moving around in the model could also help survivors to bring back forgotten memories, a bit like how browsing old photographs can suddenly make you remember small events and quotidian details.
If you know family, friends or other people who might help us to collect more memories, or you are one of the witnesses yourself, we gladly invite you to collaborate and share your information with us. Of course, all information is handled with full respect, confidentiality and if requested, anonymity. We would gladly get in contact to organise an interview at a preferred location, for instance near home or a memorial site. Please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.