JERUSALEM, Israel – A virtual reality film called Triumph of the Spirit is taking thousands of younger Israelis to the scene of the crime as they learn about the Holocaust.
This tool comes at an important time, as surveys show fewer people know about this key part of history. One miracle described by the director of Triumph of the Spirit included getting access to Auschwitz.
Miriam Cohen, the film’s director, described to CBN News the reaction when they inquired about access: “Stephen Spielberg didn’t get permission when he did Schindler’s List. Why do you think you’re going to get permission? Who are you?”
“And when people said, ‘Who are you?’ I remember looking at Chani, my friend, and I told her, ‘We’re God’s daughters.’ And we started to pray. We had a miracle. We got permission to film in Auschwitz-Birkenau during COVID. For three days.”
Three ultra-Orthodox women filmmakers pursued this production because of a passion for their community.
Orthodox Jews often choose to be set apart from mainstream society and don’t allow their children to travel abroad alone, so they rarely experience the reality of actually being in Auschwitz.
“Most of the students in Israel go to Poland at the age of 17 or 18, but in the ultra-Orthodox community it doesn’t happen. We don’t go,” Cohen explained. “I lived in a village with a lot of people. When they came back with this super, super powerful experience they had, suddenly I felt that I’ve missed something.”
She added ,“ I have 6 children. As a mother, I can understand that people don’t want to send teenagers outside the country without them.”
Cohen shared how the technology intensified the sense of being alone, as well as feeling surrounded by the sights and sounds of Auschwitz.
“Virtual reality, it’s an amazing tool. The first time I put the headset on I felt like I was there,” she recalled.
Auschwitz, being closed by COVID, gave them permission to film with drones. “So, we could have a drone shooter from morning until the night,” Cohen related.
“And you’ll see (in) the film, there’s this part where the drone goes inside Auschwitz; it goes up and you see the massive camp.”
She continued, “We worked so hard on the sound of the film, and the music. You can hear the people that are in the train that are coughing and crying – the sound of babies crying – and that is not something you can see when you’re on the ground. What happened is, when we came back, everyone wanted to watch it – ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, not Orthodox at all, Christians and Muslims – everyone.”
While Cohen and her team made this film for their community, they hope it goes much wider. A first step toward that goal came when they released it in London.
Israel’s Ambassador to the U.K., Tzipi Hotevely, was on hand for the screening.
She remarked, “This is one of the greatest ideas about the next generation of educating for the Holocaust.”
More than 70,000 Israelis have experienced this virtual reality phenomenon, and Cohen plans to release it in New York later this year.