Student-Designed App Preserves Holocaust Survivor Stories

 Student-Designed App Preserves Holocaust Survivor Stories

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An idea born in one Duke classroom now has the potential to be a tool in many. A team of first-year students in Professor Laura Lieber’s seminar on Jewish-German culture dreamt up a way to use 21st century technology to preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors. Since finishing Lieber’s course this spring, team leaders Scott Powell and Matthew Kirshner have raised funds to make the idea a reality.

The students’ mobile app, which is now available for download, provides a digital archive of survivor profiles, photos, interactive maps and personal timelines designed to supplement survivor presentations in classrooms.

While designing the app, the students worked closely with the Holocaust Speakers Bureau (HSB), a Triangle-based organization working to assist local educators in teaching about the Holocaust, genocide, tolerance and human rights.

The students gathered archival materials from HSB and interviewed survivors over the course of the semester to create a database of information they hope will be highly accessible to students via its mobile platform.

“The idea is to make [learning] more interactive,” Powell said. “We want to use technology to bridge the gap between the survivors’ stories and students’ understanding.”

HSB director Sharon Halperin said Powell and Kirshner’s efforts represent an innovative and contemporary approach to keeping Holocaust stories alive.

“History needs to be made relevant,” she said, “and I think what Matt and Scott have done here is make Holocaust survivor stories relevant to teachers and students today.”


Powell and Kirshner hope that in the years to come, children of survivors can also bring their stories into university classrooms, using the app in conjunction with their presentations.

“[This is] a very important time in Holocaust education,” Kirshner said. “The number of living Holocaust survivors who are able to come and speak in classrooms is decreasing every day. We hope to preserve their stories for the classroom in years to come.”

To download the app for free, search “Holocaust Speakers Bureau” in the iTunes app store.

Support and resources for the app also provided by the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, Shore Undergraduate Research Scholars, Humanities Writ Large, professor of computer science Richard Lucic and research services archivist Trudi Abel.