THE "HOUSE OF MEMORY" PROJECT: IDEA, AIM, PLANS, AND TIME CHALLENGES
"House of Memory" is a new multifaceted innovative project of the Chernivtsi Museum of the History and Culture of Bukovynian Jews. Mykola Kushnir, a museum director and project manager, talks about its features, funding sources, duration, planned activities, expected results, and existing challenges.
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The phrase "House of Memory" was not chosen as the project title by chance. This is a symbolic name behind which hides not just some abstraction but a very concrete building. We are talking about the former Jewish House, which is located on Theater Square in Chernivtsi, where our museum is situated. This building witnessed almost the entire history of Chernivtsi and Bukovinian Jewry in the 20th century, survived various eras, and can tell us a lot. On the other hand, the "House of Memory" is also a very convenient imaginary structure that allows us to connect all the products that will be created within the framework of our project.
Two main factors contributed to the idea behind this project. Firstly, the long-term experience of our museum internships in museum pedagogy. We have realized that it is becoming more challenging to convey messages which are important for forming correct valuable orientations to the consciousness of the modern young generation by using only traditional forms and methods. Besides, it is necessary to consider the interests of children and adolescents and, most importantly, how they learn about the world around them. And no matter how we adults feel about it, we cannot deny the obvious fact that our children are getting to know the world more and more via smartphones and computers. So, maybe it would make sense to give them something on their smartphones or computers that would be useful for them in terms of preparing for adulthood.
The second factor is our understanding that without learning and considering historical experience, it is impossible to build a stable and secure future. Without learning lessons from the past, and, above all, the difficult past, society will always live in danger of launching mechanisms of self-destruction. Before our eyes, at the cost of the lives of thousands of Ukrainians, the whole world, primarily the democratic world, is learning this lesson once again. And I do want to believe that after such a bloody repetition of the material, the world will finally understand that a dignified human life is of the highest value.
At one time, this lesson had to be learned by the German people, who bear full responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War and the crimes against humanity committed during it. One of these crimes was, as you know, the Holocaust – genocide, or in other words, the total extermination of Jews in the occupied countries of Europe. Currently, Germany is spending considerable resources to ensure that the young generation of Germans and youth in other European countries know and remember that crime and understand the reasons that made it possible. There is a constant search for new methods and means of enlightenment, which ought to consider the realities of today, namely: the absence of living witnesses of the Holocaust, the ever-widening use of computer technologies in everyday life, and the digitalization of social communication channels. German and European intellectuals are increasingly discussing the need to create a new culture of remembering and reminding – a culture of the 4th generation, the culture that relies on digital technologies. Considering these trends and responding to current needs, the German foundation called Remembrance, Responsibility and Future announced a call for projects in 2021, aimed at the development of various digital formats and their implementation in non-formal education processes. And since museums, including ours, are subjects of non-formal education, we decided to prepare a grant application, which was eventually supported.
What is the essence of the project idea? The project idea is to help young people understand and assimilate the rich social experience that the history of Bukovina offers us in the 20th century. It is well-known that during the 20th century, this small historical region in the East of Europe changed its state ownership and political regimes several times. Here we are dealing with a vast array of so-called "isms": nationalism, chauvinism, fascism, totalitarianism, socialism, communism, etc. It is characteristic that while changing regimes, one also changed forms of discrimination against representatives of various ethnic communities, including Jews. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, first of all, the Jews, since the history of the Jewish community of Bukovina, like a mirror, reflects the degree of moral decay and degradation of a regime. Thus, in this project we plan to use specific examples and stories to demonstrate the nature of the relationship between the local Jewish community and a political regime and, in this way, teach young people to recognize their obvious and hidden negative traits.
Our project is designed for high school students, as well as for freshmen and sophomores. We believe that these age groups should be the object of increased attention when it comes to the need to instill in society an antidote, in other words, a means against the spread of destructive ideas and practices, against any discrimination, in particular on the basis of national origin or faith. It applies to attempts from the outside to sow seeds of discord in our society using propaganda through the spread of various types of fakes and conspiracy theories on the internet. We want our youth to learn to recognize information traps and not fall into them.
First of all, this is the largest project that our museum has ever implemented in terms of its duration and budget. Secondly, and this is probably the main thing: this project assumes that most of the time and money will be spent not on live communication with the target group that we museum workers are used to and always strive for, but on creating digital means of communication. In other words, the project implementation will largely or even predominantly take place in the poorly understood world of IT, software engineering, and multimedia technologies for museum workers. It is a big challenge for us, since we will not perform most of the tasks but will delegate them to experts in the relevant fields. To find such experts and clearly explain to them the essence of our idea, and to implement the products in the system of informal education and museum pedagogy, as one of its varieties, are tasks that we have not directly encountered before.
Within the project, it is planned to create several products. I’ll start with the most important. It goes without saying that the main product will be the creation of a 30/45-minute web documentary about the history of the Jews of Bukovina and Chernivtsi in the 20th century that emphasizes the above-mentioned aspects. The second type of product will be educational apps on the specified topic for two different age categories of our target group. It is assumed that they will be of different complexity, since there is a difference in how to present the material for various groups, and there is a difference in how it is perceived. This difference will be reflected in the degrees of difficulty, as well as in the set of techniques that will be used to make educational apps interesting for the respective age groups.
A special online platform, or in other words, a special website, is also being created to document the work on the project and cover its progress, where everyone can later find our main products and use them.
Before starting the development of educational apps, we will consult with teachers with whom we have established good cooperation in the framework of previous projects. We will also consult with children and young people. We have even planned to hold a special seminar with teachers in which we will offer various examples of educational apps, of course only in the form of a short presentation, in order to choose the best option with their help.
Children and adolescents will be able to use our products with the help of various gadgets, both as part of a curriculum or extracurricular activities in schools with the participation of teachers and independently or with their parents at home.
A web documentary is a relatively new yet already quite widespread genre of world cinematography. However, I tend to characterize it as a separate multimedia format with elements of the documentary. In Ukraine, it is still a very little-known phenomenon. However, it would be wrong to claim that we are pioneers here. In our country, there are already examples of creating web documentaries. In the same way, we already have specialists, or rather companies, who can create such products, although they are still few and far between.
A web documentary differs from a regular documentary movie in several significant ways. First, unlike an ordinary movie, which is saved and played using a film (if it is an analog format) or a digital device, a web documentary is closely tied to a browser, which means it requires the internet. Second, the web documentary uses a different approach to the construction of a storyline that reveals the stated movie theme. If an ordinary movie develops in linear fashion and a user does not have the ability to affect what they see on the screen or monitor, unless it is to pause it or stop it, then in a web documentary a plot often consists of several seemingly unrelated stories, which, however, by moving to another level of generalization, help us understand the essence of one phenomenon or another, the nature of events, and actors, etc. At the same time, this movie necessarily entails a viewer’s involvement in the plot through a set of certain tools for interactions. And the larger this set is, the more interesting and more challenging this movie is (in terms of technical implementation). Watching this movie is like putting together a puzzle in which the plot is predetermined, as well as the number of puzzles. But putting together a whole picture is already the work of a viewer. In addition, we know that in an ordinary documentary, for the persuasiveness of what is claimed, the following tools are used: a scientifically verified text that sounds off-screen or is displayed on the screen, prints of original documents, historical or contemporary photos, a film chronicle or simply videos, expert comments or eyewitness accounts. But what to do if there are no eyewitnesses? If there are no or almost no photo and video documents, for example, in the case of the Jewish ghetto in Chernivtsi? In this case, elements of computer games, augmented or virtual reality, and other multimedia effects can come to the aid of the author or authors in the format of a web documentary. Of course, all these techniques should be used carefully and only where it is justified, and where they can bring benefits.
The grant agreement specifies that 20 months will be allocated to the project implementation. The project activities started on November 1, 2021. The formal date of the project completion is set for July 30, 2023.
Unfortunately, life made adjustments to the original time plan. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to accurately predict when exactly we will be able to present the project’s most important products: a web documentary and educational apps. We want to believe that we will be able to do it closer to the summer of next year.
As for workshops and museum talks, we plan to start holding them as soon as October this year. They will take place at a certain interval and will last for the next 6–7 months.
The Russian Federation’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022 suddenly changed the lives of our entire country and all our fellow citizens. The war has negatively affected all social processes: destroyed or forced changes not only in personnel but also to business plans. Many people lost their jobs, many enterprises, institutions, and organizations ceased or completely stopped their activities. Unfortunately, our project was no exception. Starting with the morning of February 24, we, like most of our fellow citizens, were in a state of shock from understanding what happened, and what was before our eyes. And when the shock of the first days had passed, we realized that the main task of every Ukrainian is the maximum contribution to the defense of the Motherland, as well as concern for the safety of their relatives and friends. Everything else is automatically relegated. Under these conditions, and especially considering the fact that none of us knew where we would be tomorrow and whether there would even be a tomorrow, I informed our grantor, the Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, via e-mail that we could not continue the implementation of the project. In response, I received a touching letter in which our project coordinator, on behalf of the Foundation, expressed a full understanding of the situation and solidarity with the Ukrainian people and offered comprehensive support to the project team members.
When, somewhere closer to mid April, as a result of the heroic efforts of our military, territorial defense forces, and the civilian population, which stood up to protect our cities and villages, the enemy was pushed back from Kyiv, and the front line gradually moved to the east and south, we, together with the project team members, the vast majority of whom, fortunately, had remained in the city at that time, began to think about attempts to continue the project implementation even under the conditions of war. To my corresponding request, which was supported by our German partner in this project, the Institute for German Culture and History of Southeast Europe at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the Foundation gave a positive response and resumed funding in early May.
All project activities were forced to shift in time, so it cannot be excluded that the formal end of the project will also be postponed by several months. However, to tell the truth, even under the current conditions, it is just as difficult to predict or plan something. We openly inform the Foundation about this and find their understanding.
As for the project content, the war and everything related to it made the project’s topic even more relevant. Thus, such shameful phenomena as persecution, discrimination, and humiliation on the basis of ethnicity, complete disregard for human rights, intolerance of another culture and open expression of one's position, which take place both in Russia itself and in the territories occupied by it in Ukraine, will be discussed during workshops and museum talks. Now we plan to pay more attention to the discussion of historical parallels, which become obvious when we evaluate the policy that Russia is pursuing in Eastern Europe in our time, and what Bukovina experienced in the second half of the 1930s, as well as at the beginning of Second World War.
We are also considering the relevance of making changes to the structure of the upcoming web documentary. There is a proposal to supplement it with a section on the life of the Jewish community of Bukovina in the early 21st century and bring it up to the present day to show the negative impact of the current war and imprint it in our collective memory.