- Dimensions in Testimony is a collection of 3D-interactive stories that aims to teach people about the horrors of World War Two
- One man details his childhood in Poland, his time in a ghetto and concentration camps, and how he dealt with his trauma
How do survivors of genocide make sense of their trauma? Through a new interview format, we were able to find out – at least from one person.
Dimensions in Testimony is a collection of 3D-interactive stories from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. This technology enables anyone to ask questions and receive videotaped responses via pre-recorded interviews, so that these stories can live on, even after death.
Through these interviews, we were able learn the story of Pinchas Gutter (1932-2012), a Holocaust educator who was just a young boy in Central Poland when the Nazis uprooted his life after they invaded in 1939.
Growing up in łódź, Poland, Gutter recalled a childhood free of anti-Semitism, despite living in a mostly-Christian neighbourhood. He had a happy life and spent his days running around in parks, listening to music and learning to make wine with his father.
His life took a turn once the Nazis occupied łódź. Gutter had never before viewed his Jewish heritage as a threat, but one fateful night, when Hitler’s police, the Gestapo, burst through his door in search of his grandfather, Gutter said he “no longer knew of safety.”
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When the police could not find his grandfather, they took Gutter’s father beat him instead, leaving only when they thought he was dead.
As soon as Gutter’s father recovered, he evacuated with his family. Gutter recalls being shaken awake at 3am, holding hands with his mother and twin sister as their father led them to a bus to the Polish capital of Warsaw. On the dark bus ride, Gutter wondered whether anywhere they went would be safe. After arriving in Warsaw, his father searched for a flat, and the family moved into 49 Nalewki Street.
Unfortunately, the flat turned out to be part of a newly formed ghetto – an enclosed neighbourhood that isolated Jewish people from the rest of the population, often in miserable conditions.
“And that was how we found ourselves confined in a ghetto, with no form of escape,” said Gutter.
Life in the ghetto was demanding and difficult. Gutter’s father made wine out of raisins for a living, while Gutter and his sister started a small kiosk selling any tidbits they could get their hands on – usually cigarettes, candies, or tissue packets. In April 1943, after two and a half years in the ghetto, the family was sent to the Majdanek concentration camp. Gutter’s father and sister were executed upon arrival, while his mother was transferred to a work camp. Gutter wound up in six concentration camps over the next few years.
“A concentration camp was a place of torment, if you ask me to quickly sum it up in one word. A place to abuse human beings before eventually killing them,” he said.
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Gutter crossed the threshold of work camps as well as death camps, but both were houses of torture. “All of these camps were camps of merciless death.”
On the day of his bar mitzvah, Gutter learned that his mother had died. All remaining feelings of hope within him had diminished.
“I remember thinking, my whole family is dead. Why am I the one still alive?”
But somehow, he kept going.
“I don’t think I can ever consciously answer the question about what specific thing gave me the strength to survive. I didn’t keep the faith, but the faith kept me,” he said.
Whether it was a voice in his head, or words from a campmate, faith came from instinct and providence. Gutter was liberated from the concentration camp in 1945.
Life after the war was peaceful, giving him the chance to reflect and make sense of his trauma. He spent his days as a seminary and Holocaust educator, sharing his story through guest lectures, and travelling with his wife Dorothy.
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Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still as harmful as ever, and it persists no matter how hard we work to get rid of it. But Gutter wanted to spread his story as far as he could.
“I think Germany has really learned from its history,” he said.
When his wife Dorothy finally convinced him to go a trip to Frankfurt, he was pleasantly surprised.
“I commend the openness in which the Germans deal with the Holocaust today. Being in Frankfurt and visiting the Jewish communities there was really surprising,” he said.
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Seeing the city as a haven for Jews now gave Gutter the strength to let go of his experiences and adapt a brighter outlook for the new generation.
Gutter concluded his story by stressing the importance of Holocaust education for all, saying that by educating students about what could happen, they would strive for it not to happen, and work to eradicate anti-Semitism around the world.
“It shows a face of humanity, of that inhuman aspect of what humanity can get up to,” he said.