Shalom Life | February 10, 2014

Children's Book Author Developing App That Teaches the Holocaust

Shalom Life speaks to Steven Winkelstein about his campaign to develop an informative, interactive Holocaust education app

By: Zak Edwards

Published: October 24th, 2013 in Business » World

Steven Winkelstein has an idea, a simple and profound idea, that needs your help: he wants to utilize the latest technologies to teach kids about the Holocaust in ways that are educational, interactive, and engaging.

Books in a world of iPads, for Winkelstein, seem to avoid using all our available resources and he’s looking to change that. He has the idea and the partners; he just needs your support over at his Indiegogo page.

The crowdsourcing is for an interactive book app called Brisko: A True Story of Survival, which tells the true story of Holocaust survivor Laura (Libe) and her dog Brisko in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Libe and her family are taken in by a farmer named Pavlo, who has nothing to gain from his display of humanity, and everything to lose - including his family. As the ghetto in Tuchin burns and the Nazis hunt them daily, Libe’s family must rely on their cunning, hope, and faith to endure. As their journey swells with danger and despair, their faith begins to wane, and Libe finds that her very survival will depend upon her miraculous hero, Brisko.

The story is an attempt to integrate the contemporary methods in which kids are learning today, teaching them the important moments and lessons of history.

The project began as a "series of interviews with the survivor, Laura," Weinstein said in Shalom Life’s exclusive interview, and then transformed into a straightforward children’s novel.

All of which was inspired by his trip to Israel.


"We were the oldest guys on the trip, so we went off on our own a lot," he told me. The moment came at Yad Vashem, where he had a "really powerful moment that I wasn’t really expecting. A lot of it had to do with the architecture."

The way Yad Vashem is built, with its giant hallways, means that visitors have to travel in a zigzag pattern. At the end, you walk out onto a patio overlooking Israel and this is where Winkelstein’s moment occurred. "As someone interested in telling stories to children, I knew that I had to bring something Holocaust related to them."

A straightforward book wasn’t the answer though. "I started thinking about other ways to bring this story to newer generations who are going to devices like iPads for reading and education." The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to truly engage the younger generations using material and media that they are familiar with, like smartphones, tablets and other such devices.

Brisko decided it was time to expand his reach into the virtual realm.

"Kids today grow up saturated in technology," Winkelstein says. "We need to think about how we can talk about the Holocaust with the new generations." These are the exact sorts of questions that have caused anxiety in Holocaust educators who are wary of new methods detracting or changing the reasons we teach the Shoah to children.

Imagination is the Only Escape, a video game about the Holocaust, was quietly buried in 2008 after the “gamification,” or attempts to incorporate video game elements, raised eyebrows. It was restarted earlier this year with an Indiegogo campaign. Other new methods of teaching the event came with the recently announced Anne Frank video game, though that also turned a few heads.

The "how" of Holocaust education, it seems, is a significant and controversial topic.


(Steven Winkelstein)

For Winkelstein, it’s all in the approach. "Obviously we’re not going to make a first-person shooter about the Holocaust," he says. Brisko is less about gaming and more about interactivity, designed to engage and teach kids, and to create, via the app's features, to develop a community that explores the Holocaust while holding onto these core values.

"If they are reading about a geographical location," for example, "they will be able to pull up a map, if they are reading about a war machine, they can look at diagrams." Best of all, users will be able to listen to Laura read portions of the book. Brisko will also provide links to outside info and even a place where users around the world can talk to each other. This last feature will most likely take the form of message boards where users can discuss the book, and to learn and grow together.

Much of it is still in the "planning stages, there’s so much up in the air right now" says Winkelstein, as he needs to raise the funds before he can truly see where the project can go. Visit his Indiegogo to help out.

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