Ernst Groppi – The first contemporary virtual witness in Sachsenhausen

Oranienburg. It has been 77 years since the Allies liberated the inmates of Germany’s last concentration camps. There are only a few people who have survived Hell on Earth out there and they can still talk about it. How will their history continue when they are no longer available as contemporary living witnesses?

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“I always tell stories with reference to the present,” says Ernst Grobbe. Because he only understood much later. He says you have to look at the events of that time and the feelings associated with them to know today. The 90-year-old was from Munich in Theresienstadt as a child. He’s been telling classrooms what he lived there for years, so people wouldn’t forget what the Nazis did to their victims.

Ernst Groppi – Contemporary Huge Witness

Ernst Groppi stands in front of you. But Grube isn’t really serious. It is an artificial figure made with great technical effort that appears in the former prisoners’ laundry in the memorial to the Sachsenhausen (Oberhavel) concentration camp. It almost looks like the real Ernst Grobe. Every facial wrinkle could be seen in their facial expressions. When she moves her arms and hands while talking, you can see how the fabric of the shirt vibrates. Ernst Grube is a virtual contemporary witness who will continue to exist when the real Ernst Grube is no longer alive.

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In order to be able to meet this contemporary virtual witness, you have to wear what are called virtual reality glasses. “VR” means “virtual reality”. Anyone looking through such a device finds themselves in a world beyond reality in an artificial reality – a bit like a computer game. Except that in this case it is not a game, but rather the horror experienced by a real person. Is it still as believable as if it was said by a real person?

This is the world’s first volumetric eyewitness interview, which will be presented on Tuesday at the Sachsenhausen memorial. “Ernst Grube – The Legacy” is the name of the project involving the monument, the Heinrich Hertz Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin and the Potsdamer Ufa Film Company.

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It is an experience. “We cannot ignore these new technical possibilities,” says Brandenburg Memorial Foundation director, Axel Drikol. She hints at the viewing habits of young people, which have changed little in recent years due to social media, computer games and virtual reality. At the same time he is skeptical. Because Drecoll knows the danger involved when reality is simulated and the horror being tested in a concentration camp suddenly appears as an adventure game. “We are critically reviewing this project and will eventually see if it works,” says Drecoll.

Volucab worked in Potsdam with 32 cameras

In order for the Ernst Group to appear lifelike in front of virtual reality glasses, he was filmed for a day in the private studio of the Potsdam company Volucab with 32 cameras from different perspectives as he tells the story of his life. With this in mind, a 3D model of the virtual person Ernst Groppi was formed, frame by frame, explains Oliver Schreyer of the Fraunhofer Institute. What seems trite requires massive computing power. A network of several computers takes twelve hours to produce one minute with Ernst Grube. For the full story, which Grube tells in five chapters in 50 minutes, computers have been running at full speed for 25 days.

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The result is a conversation between young Phil Carstensen and eyewitness Ernst Groppi, which seems very vivid as if it were real. There are no avatars, as Fraunhofer man Schreer confirms. “We create a truly authentic experience through realistic representation,” Schreyer says.

Because this is exactly where the danger is that the viewer loses his distance and what is being told becomes a story like any other and the facts may seem like fiction, interviewees find themselves in a clearly created virtual environment. Contrast reminds the viewer of the necessary distance. The simulated kitchen of the Munich apartment where Grube first grew up is followed by a children’s home garden, where SS men walk on the horizon, concentration camp barracks in the snow, the carriages used to ferry Jews away, and the entrance gate to Theresienstadt.

About Ernst Grobe

Ernst Grobe She was born in Munich in 1932 to a Jewish mother and a Protestant and Communist father.

In February 1945 He was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp.

after editing On May 8, 1945, Groppi returned to Munich, worked as a teacher at a vocational school and campaigned against the rearmament of the FRG and the occupation of important positions by the Nazis.

as a contemporary witness He is a frequent guest at memorial sites, schools, radio and television.

Against this increasingly abstract background, Ernst Grob tells his story in dialogue with young people. How the child, born in 1932 to a Jewish mother and a Protestant and Communist father, felt marginalized from the start. In 1938 the family was evicted from their apartment in Munich. Grube and his two brothers went to a Jewish children’s home in Schwabing. He reported how he was no longer allowed to go to school since 1941 and had to wear the yellow star, how he was taken to the Milbertshofen deportation camp in 1942, how his father was forced to divorce his mother, and how he was sent to Theresienstadt in February 1945 deported, where the army liberated him The Soviet Union on May 8 – and how he jumped into his father’s arms when he returned to Munich.

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Memorial Drecoll director: ‘We have to try it carefully’

However, the question is what added value this technical effort has added compared to the traditional recording of a conversation with the real Ernst Groppi. The Sachsenhausen memorial is not yet clear about this.

What is certain is that technologically speaking, in principle, much would already be possible today. In practice, the viewer can be drawn deeper into the memories of Ernst Groppi. But where do you draw the line between fantasy and reality? “We have to try it carefully,” says Dricol, head of the memorial. However, the truth is that many contemporary witnesses somehow wish to keep their memories alive in this way. The fact of the matter is that her memory will not be available to us for much longer.

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