VIC premier samples new VR tour of Auschwitz

Premier Daniel Andrews (left) speaks with Holocaust survivor Szaja Chaskiel about the virtual reality project the Shoah survivor narrated. Photo: Peter Haskin

“A PROFOUNDLY moving experience” is how Premier Daniel Andrews described to The AJN his sampling of a new virtual reality (VR) tour of Auschwitz that will help future generations understand the horror of the Holocaust.

At the Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) on Wednesday, the Victorian Premier was given the opportunity to don a headset and experience a sample of ‘Walk With Me’, the VR tour, which was narrated by Melbourne Auschwitz survivor Szaja Chaskiel, now 89, and produced by filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe.

Attendees at the launch of the VR project, including Jewish community and political figures, watched on a large screen what Andrews was seeing through his VR goggles.

On a visit to the Jewish Cultural and Arts Precinct, which included opening a new wing at Sholem Aleichem College, Andrews announced a state government grant of almost $126,000 to complete the VR testimony project after an initial grant of $30,000.

The VR tour the Premier experienced included the former site of Auschwitz’s crematoria and the crowded children’s barracks.

“That’s a profoundly moving experience – to be there and, as the title of the film indicates, to walk with someone who survived that horror is a very emotional thing,” Andrews told The AJN.

Describing Chaskiel’s involvement as “a very generous gift” to posterity, the Premier reflected, “It’s a big job to make sure that these stories continue to be told; that you can have that very raw emotion and that authenticity that comes from someone who was there and marry that with the best of technology … It’s more than just testimony.

“We’re always looking to make sure that our multiculturalism, our history, the values we hold dear, of inclusion and acceptance, of harmony and safety are properly promoted. You can’t understand how important that is if you don’t reflect on terrible times, the worst of times in our shared history,” he said.

Chaskiel, a teenager when he survived Auschwitz, greeted the Premier at the JHC and lamented to him about the rise in Holocaust denial.

JHC director Jayne Josem said, “We took a risk and flew with a survivor to Europe – just myself and a small film crew. Szaja was 87 and we couldn’t wait for funding. We filmed him with a 360-degree camera in his home town in Poland, and in Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps.”