Mon, 08 Mar 2021

JERUSALEM, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- A recent study done by Israeli scholars reveals that museums and memorial sites in the country have accelerated the pace to the digital era amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The impact of the pandemic is far-reaching, seeping into every aspect of daily life. Museums and memorial sites in Israel have been forced to launch more online activities as social distancing restrictions and lockdown measures have decreased the on-site visits, according to a study led by Dr. Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann at the Hebrew University.

The study was published this week in the journal of "Media, Culture and Society."

Wednesday marks the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. But countries, which used to hold large gatherings at memorial centers or historical sites, this year have curtailed the crowd and implemented strict anti-pandemic measures to protect public health.

In April 2020, when Yom HaShoah, the Israeli National Holocaust Remembrance Day, was marked just after the country's first national lockdown had been lifted, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center based in Jerusalem, initiated a new way to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims. It used the hashtag "#RememberingFromHome" to call on people to keep social distance and recreate its annual victim name reading ceremony online.

Even before the pandemic, museums related to the Holocaust were already at the forefront of the digitization of historical data and documents. Artificial Intelligence (AI), holograms, and virtual reality have been used in the last years in order to record testimonies and make them interactive for users, even those who were born long after the Holocaust.

But museums also had misgivings, fearing that the usage of social media could result in distortion of the Holocaust and therefore be counterproductive.

"They were quite suspicious in using social media and the participatory elements of social media. They were afraid that it could lead to holocaust distortion or denial," Ebbrecht-Hartmann told Xinhua. "Until the pandemic, online activity was mainly about education and preservation and always about controlling the message."

But the pandemic has prompted a major shift in how institutions viewed social media: they are now using it and its interactive features in order to promote the preservation of memory.

Two main functions of the Holocaust memorial centers, which are exhibition and education, have been heavily affected by the pandemic, forcing centers to resort to the virtual sphere.

"While before the pandemic, websites were the most important digital tool used for communicating the work and sharing the content," Ebbrecht-Hartman said. "During the pandemic, all social media platforms rose, especially platforms like Instagram and YouTube."

The video conference software platform Zoom also came into large use. Holocaust survivors, who used to give their testimonies at gatherings, have been forced to stay home because their age made them one of the high-risk demographic groups. So Zoom was used in order to continue the tradition of testimonials.

Ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics reported that 900 holocaust survivors in the country had died of the virus since the onset of the pandemic. The tragic number highlights the vulnerability of the elderly population as well as the importance of preserving their testimonials.

The shift to cyberspace of the Holocaust memorial can make history more accessible to a younger generation, who deeps heavily on social media for procuring information and knowledge. However, this does not mean the beginning of the end of the traditional museums, noted Ebbrecht-Hartmann.

"No media or social media can replace a visit to a memorial site or museum. There is a feeling of presence and emotion that you cannot have on social media. But, the new normal in relation to Holocaust commemoration will likely be a hybrid of psychical activity and digital activity and social media will play an important role in this," the scholar summarized.

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