The project, led by a group of Texas Tech faculty and students, focuses on Texas veterans who participated in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
After years of preparations by Texas Tech University students and faculty, The Texas Liberator Project is ready to launch from its many different facets.
The Project consists of an interactive app, a website, a book and an exhibit at the Museum of Texas Tech University which all aim to educate about the context and history of World War II, the Holocaust and the Liberation. This educational experience is viewed through the lens of Texan Liberators of the Nazi concentration camps.
Aliza Wong, associate professor of history and associate dean of the Texas Tech Honors College, worked closely with Peter Berkowitz, a commissioner from the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THCG) in 2015 to make the idea of an educational resource available for all Texas high schools and the wider public a reality.
Initially, ideas of a digital book were introduced with hopes of interesting a new generation of high school students in the history of the Holocaust. The project would contain information from recordings the THGC had commissioned from the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University. The recordings featured oral histories of veterans who lived in Texas and participated in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
However, Wong soon came up with another idea to get younger generations interested in the subject matter.
"One night, I was watching my then-14-year-old son playing a game on his computer," Wong said. "And that's when I wondered if it would be possible to build an app, a digital educational resource that would engage with what was more familiar to a new generation of learners."
From there, Wong reached out to colleagues and students from the College of Media & Communication, the J.T and Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts and the College of Arts & Sciences. She developed a plan to engage students, family members and historians through an interactive app in understanding the enormity of what the U.S. soldiers witnessed as they walked into concentration camps.
The project took off and grew into a four-part package composed of the app, a website, a book and a museum exhibit that a group of Texas Tech students from different colleges met weekly to discuss. Wong said this type of collaboration across the colleges on a project made for students, by students, represents what is possible at Texas Tech.
Wong said she wants this project to honor the men featured and their actions, as well as the millions of victims of the Holocaust, whether they be Jewish, Roma, homosexual, disabled, politically incongruent or anyone deemed "weak" or "undesirable."
"In the words of the veterans we featured in this project, " I hope we all remember and understand why we must continue to fight against injustice and evil in the world,'" she said. "Liberation is a continuous battle for voice, equality, tolerance, empathy and compassion."
The App and Website
Each of the four elements of the Texas Liberator Project works to complement and build off the others. That being said, the app is crucial to the overall experience of the project.
"The centerpiece of the project is the app, a digital educational tool that allows students to virtually enter Dachau and learn from multiple resources elements of the Holocaust and the experience of liberation," Wong said.
Students using the app, titled "The Liberator Project: Witness to the Holocaust," may notice the lack of Holocaust victims' corpses and survivors emaciated bodies as they explore Dachau, the first concentration camp established in Germany. This was a purposeful decision made by Wong and the rest of the design team to show respect to those impacted while still maintaining historical accuracy.
"We worked closely with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission to respect the memory of those who suffered and died in the camps," Wong said. "The educational specialist at the THGC, Jake Wolfson, explained to us that no artistic representation can ever sufficiently convey such horrors to the extent that victims experienced or liberators witnessed them. Moreover, many survivors of the Nazi camp system, along with several Holocaust scholars, have explicitly rejected the notion that art should even attempt to portray the terrible effects of the Nazis' systematic assault on prisoners' bodies."
The website serves as a companion piece to the app and provides educators and the community at large a way to access more information about the project, to discover new resources in Texas and around the world, and to read more and to access the original three-to-four hourlong oral histories captured by the Baylor archivists. It will also include an interactive map and "Honor Roll," a project of Berkowitz's to record the names of more than 300 Texas Liberators.
The app and website will launch Thursday (Aug. 17).
"The Texas Liberators: Veteran Narratives from World War II," is a portrait book of the 21 Texas Liberators who inspired the project. Wong, writer and editor, excerpts the most personal and intimate stories of what the Texan Liberators witnessed from the three-to-four hourlong oral histories. Honors College undergraduate and graduate research students watched every minute of testimonial and passed their findings on to Wong.
"I tried to safeguard their unique voices, their inflections, their personalities, so that people who know them might be able to hear the actual tones and cadences as they read with their eyes," Wong said.
The book features portraits of the men by local photographer Mark Umstot, as well as the service photos of these men and an excerpt from their testimonial about the liberation of the camps.
The book will be released in December 2017 and is published by Texas Tech University Press with the support of the Friends of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.
The Museum of Texas Tech University will host the exhibit portion of the project from Aug. 17 until December. "Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust" will provide a context for World War II and a history of the Holocaust and the Liberation in an interactive, engaged environment.
Attendees will tour 21 free-standing panels, each honoring a Texas Liberator featured in the project. The exhibit will feature both the modern Umstot portraits and service photos of the men. Each panel will have a quote from the liberator's oral history. Berkowitz's Honor Roll also will be displayed.
"The exhibit at the Museum of Texas Tech University brings together the other three elements in a powerful display that speaks to context, to witnessing, to commemoration and to history," Wong said.
For more information regarding the exhibit opening, visit the museum's website.