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Holocaust survivors use AI imagery to keep stories alive

HOLOCAUST-MEMORIAL-ISRAEL-ARTIFICIAL-INTELLIGENCE:Holocaust survivors use AI imagery to keep stories alive
HOLOCAUST-MEMORIAL-ISRAEL-ARTIFICIAL-INTELLIGENCE:Holocaust survivors use AI imagery to keep stories alive Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023
By Reuters
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By Rami Amichay

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel - Ehudith Bracha Serchook narrowly escaped death when her family fled Nazi-allied forces storming the Crimean city of Odesa in 1941, saved only by a lost sandal which made her miss her place on a passenger ship shortly before it was bombed.

A lifetime later, 86-year-old Serchook is retelling her story via an artificial intelligence (AI) service generating images that will leave an enduring record of her trauma for future generations.

Serchook is one of 19 Israelis who have so far used AI to record their memories of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, for a project run by the Chasdei Naomi organisation which supports the survivors.

"Each one of them has a unique story and they have been through terrifying stuff," said Sol Leffler, who operates the AI software.

"They are still alive today, they are still functioning and it's incredible to hear and to see it and basically to generate it into photos. I feel this our national duty to remember and not forget."

Sitting alongside the survivors as they retell their stories, Leffler writes the key elements into Midjourney, an AI programme which converts text into graphic pictures.

Next to him Raissa Gurewitsch, born in Belarus in 1941, recounts how 21 of her relatives were killed - including her three sisters and brother, aged between 3 and 13.

She holds a pink, blood-stained coat - worn by her brother, she says, and retrieved after their killing.

The programme generates four images of a young child wearing a pink coat, leaving Gurewitsch to choose the closest likeness.

Ahead of Friday's International Holocaust Memorial Day, those images are on display at an exhibition in the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Tamir Hass, project manager for Chasdei Naomi, said it also hopes to sell the drawings to raise money.

"This is one of the ways we are trying to help the Holocaust survivors and at the same time to make sure that no one will forget the story, and of course the history," Hass said.


Retelling her story, Serchook recalls the day in 1941 when as a child she and her family tried to escape danger.

"We were hurrying to catch the last steamer leaving Odesa, with many children and elderly people on board," she says.

"But on our way I lost my sandal and we had to come back to find it - and it saved our lives because when we reached the steamer it (had been) bombed by fascists and almost all the passengers were killed."

They found another vessel and were able to leave. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed in the city they left behind after it was taken by Romanian and Nazi German forces.

"I want you to remember the moment when it saves your life," Leffler prompts her, trying to capture her emotion at the time.

"About feelings, this one will suit," Serchook says, pointing to one of four images of a smiling young girl.

Asked about her memories of a conflict decades ago, in a country once again embroiled in war, Serchook said forgetting history would be dangerous.

"Some people do not want to remember... and I think it's very important to remind them and show them that anything can repeat in our lives. And we should not forget about that."

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