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Executioner, collaborator or victim ?: Strong criticism of a controversial Holocaust museum

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A picture of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center construction project
A picture of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center construction project

What role would we have had if we had to go through the Holocaust? The counterfactual history exercise could reveal some and offend many. It would be, in any case, little more than an intellectual game from the comfort that time offers.

But the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center in Kiev, Ukraine has taken this question and pushed its implications to the extreme. With the help of algorithms, computers and a psychological test, aims to inform its visitors of the precise role they would have played: victim, collaborator or executioner, during the most terrible genocide in human history.

Beyond this being possible, or desirable, the strong criticism was swift, according to a report by journalists Andrew E. Kramer and Maria Varenikovael, from the The New York Times, despite the fact that the initiative would be ready only in 2025, two years after the opening of the headquarters of the Memorial Center.

The idea belongs to the Russian filmmaker Ilya A. Khrzhanovsky and it is intended as an immersive experience to replace visits to monotonous visits to museums where there is only one tour.

To define the role of the occasional visitor, the Babi Yar Memorial Center, created in 2016 for the study of the Holocaust, will request three things: fill out a questionnaire, undergo a psychological test and allow the analysis of information on personal social networks.

Russian filmmaker Ilya A. Khrzhanovsky, creator of the controversial exhibition (Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock)
Russian filmmaker Ilya A. Khrzhanovsky, creator of the controversial exhibition (Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock)

So, an algorithm will process all this information until it finds one of the many categories, between these executioner and victim, pre-established. Then, the visit to the museum will be adapted according to the profile of the visitor, with multiple “paths” to follow in the midst of an “interactive and role-playing experience”, according to the sample pamphlet.

During the visit there will also be virtual reality glasses and the use of the deep fake (or deep forgery), by which the face of a visitor It could be filmed and projected on a character in the recreation of the massacres.

According to the creators of the project, the powerful technology used for these deep fake It comes from the porn industry, which uses it to create fake erotic videos that include celebrities.

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The Babi Yar Holocaust Commemorative Center will open its doors in 2023 in a ravine of the same name located on the outskirts of Kiev, in which German troops committed countless massacres after their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.

There they were killed between 100,000 and 150,000 Jews, gypsies, communists and prisoners of war, among other groups. Unlike what happened in the concentration camps mounted in Poland and Germany, in Babi Yar this killing was more spontaneous: almost all the victims were shot in the ravine by troops of the Schutzstaffel (SS), the Wehrmacht and Ukrainian collaborators.

The Babi Yar Memorial Center was created in 2016 and its headquarters is expected to be ready in 2023.
The Babi Yar Memorial Center was created in 2016 and its headquarters is expected to be ready in 2023.

SS soldier or gypsy could be some of the profiles given to visitors, which in the end will also receive a detailed report on the role assigned by the computer according to their profiles.

"It is a challenging and at times shocking emotional journey with the ethical decisions we make at the center", explains the pamphlet for the Khrzhanovsky initiative, which will cost about $ 100 million, according to the New York Times.

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The criticisms were immediate. "How can these plans be considered appropriate to deal with the Holocaust in a place where so many people were massacred?"Karel Berkhoff, a historian at the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, considered.

Berkhoff worked as a senior historian on the project to create the Babi Yar Memorial Center, but he resigned after learning of Khrzhanovsky's plans. "Where's the sensitivity and restraint?" He asked himself.

His departure from the project sparked an avalanche of resignations within the Center, and dozens of Ukrainian writers, historians, artists, and other cultural figures signed an open letter on April 29, rejecting these "Immersive forms of intervention for a virtual reality reconstruction of the Holocaust, turning death into a video game".

The controversial exhibition will be one of the first in the Babi Yar Memorial Center building
The controversial exhibition will be one of the first in the Babi Yar Memorial Center building

The story behind the renovation of the Babi Yar Museum is, also, controversial.

Ukraine has been at odds with Russia since 2014, when Ukrainian troops went to war with separatists in the east who receive support and weapons from Moscow.

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That same year, Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, and has since been accusing the Ukrainian authorities of sympathizing with fascism.

However, Most of the funds for the creation of the Babi Yar Memorial Center come from Russian donors, and the role-playing experience initiative was designed by a Russian filmmaker. In other words, the politics of the memory of the Holocaust in Ukraine is largely dictated from Moscow.

The scandal caused led the president of the Center's board, Natan Sharansky, to clarify that Khrzhanovsky's project has not yet been approved or rejected, although the filmmaker continues to be the artistic director of the initiative.

Khrzhanovsky, for his part, defended his plan although he admitted that it is in the concept phase and open to discussion.

In the Babi Yar massacre, between 100,000 and 150,000 people died at the hands of the Nazis
In the Babi Yar massacre, between 100,000 and 150,000 people died at the hands of the Nazis

“There was not a single evil Hitler or a single evil Stalin who brought these mass killings to Europe. They were carried out by people who began to participate in different ways ”, he explained.

Thus, the objective of the project, in his words, is to show that "Any person can be in any position, according to the decisions they make."

"It's about personal responsibility, but also about destiny"He added, later pointing out that it would be impossible not to make the experience "terrifying" because "it is a terrifying story."

At the end of the interactive exhibition at the museum, detail the pamphlet, there will also be a place to "play" on swings and hammocks, inside a "playground for adults" that will symbolize hope.

Far from having the expected effect, whatever it is, The latter details also caused a strong controversy.

For Dieter Bogner, a curator who quit the project alongside Berkhoff, the "Main exhibition raised is dangerously close to creating a Disney Holocaust".

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Sam Conley is new to online journalism but she is keen to learn. She is an MBA from a reputed university. She brings together relevant news pieces from various industries. She loves to share quick news updates. She is always in search of interesting news so that she can share them as well to Sunriseread's readers who could enjoy them with their morning coffee.

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