The Making of Ask a Survivor

Written by Robbie Simons, Audio Visual Producer

The #askasurvivor project has been a long time in the making, but it has come to fruition at the most opportune time.

In November 2012, when Zvi Civins, then Head of Education, came up with the idea to record survivors answering what he considered to be the ‘most important questions’ asked by student visitors to the MHM, we could not have envisaged how important the project would become during the time of Covid-19.

I filmed the 24 survivors who were active at the centre at the time answering three questions of their choice from this list of questions. Of that group, 13 survivors are no longer a part of the education program either because they died, or for health reasons. I personally found this an amazing opportunity to speak candidly with the survivors.

The recordings were shelved for safekeeping and it was only in 2014 that I discussed continuing this project with the newly appointed Head of Education, Lisa Phillips. As Lisa reviewed the material, she decided to extend the question list to 18 questions and include survivors who had since joined the MHM. We added supplementary questions relating to those who spent the Holocaust in hiding.

During 2017 and over the summer of 2019 we recorded further interviews. This time each survivor was asked to answer every question. I also recorded the survivors as if they were speaking to a live audience and posing phrases such as ‘Would you like to ask me a question?’ and ‘Your questions are important to me.’ In total over the eight-year period, I conducted 46 interviews with 32 different survivors. All of this was done without clear knowledge of what platform we would eventually put this on. I envisaged that perhaps there could be a kiosk in the museum and you would hear the survivor’s voice asking you if you wanted to ask a question. Fast forward to March 2020 when the museum abruptly closed due to Covid-19. We quickly put together a PowerPoint featuring one survivor answering all the questions.

Next, Jennifer Levitt Maxwell, Education Engagement Manager and Lisa Phillips decided that the project should be question-driven and the difficult decision of which survivors to include for the project had to be made. The final footage includes a combination of footage from across the eight-year period.

A graphic designer was brought in to create a clean and slick look for the site. Unfortunately, after two full weeks of working with another software, we realised that this wasn’t going to work. Luckily, we accessed a new platform, Klynt, which has worked really well, and this brings us to what we have today. I also want to acknowledge the contributions of our Educators Soo, Anatie, and Fanny who assisted with subtitling, which is a crucial part of this project.

I am very proud to finally be able to present this project after eight years, 46 interviews, 32 survivors, two directors of education, multiple layers of programming and all done by our internal team here at the MHM.

A big thank you and congratulations should be noted to everyone who has been a part of this. I am so excited to see it used and see how it will develop into the future. This is only the beginning.

Launch Ask a Survivor