Holocaust education apps launchby Natalie Jacobs October 24, 2013
By Natalie Jacobs
Steven Winkelstein is a writer based in New Jersey and a few weeks ago he embarked on a crowdfunding campaign to produce a unique app in tandem with his book about one Holocaust survivor’s hideout in a haystack and the dog who helped her and her family make it through. We were curious about the project so we took a few minutes to speak with Winkelstein about how it came about, what the app will do for children learning about the Holocaust, and why he went the crowdfunding route. We also got a few details about the Holocaust survival story
Brief overview of what Brisko is and how it came about
It started off just as a book. It was about four years ago now, I hooked up with Laura who is the survivor and she lives half the year in Florida and half the year in Atlantic City, New Jersey. So I flew down to Florida and interviewed her. I started writing her story and we had more interviews over the phone after that. It’s really just kind of an incredible story and the plan was to put that out there as a book. About a year ago, I got the idea to go a little bit of a step beyond to see what we could do in the app world because that’s the future of education and this is such an important subject matter. I went onto the iPad and looked up Holocaust in the educational section. I looked for any kind of Holocaust app in the social studies and history sections and I didn’t see anything there. So I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a really engaging narrative and use the history aspect of it to create educational resources within an interactive vessel like an app.
Is it a picture book? Or a novel? Or a text book?
It’s not a text book. It is more like a novel but it is non fiction. It’s a chapter book for middle grade students, particularly like 6th grade but it really could be used from 5th through 8th. It’s got a couple major sections in it, and then some micro chapters where chapters are just a couple pages long.
You see the app and the book working in tandem?
The app will actually have the entire book in it. It will just bring out certain parts of the book that will be interactive. Like, if you’re reading, and you come across a part about geography or a particular piece of history, like Operation Barbarossa, you’ll be able to click on external links or bring up maps. There’s mentions of war machines like airplanes or something like that so we’re going to have diagrams. One of the really cool features that we’re going to build into the app is having discussion capabilities, like discussion boards so that students anywhere in the world can correspond with other students anywhere else in the world and share their thoughts on what’s going on in the story.
Why did you decide to go the crowdfunding route?
One of the main reasons is that it’s also a little bit of a PR campaign and it really just helps bring awareness. It also attracts all kinds of interest. So I’ve gotten calls from educators that have all kinds of connections to Scholastic and companies like that. So it really just opens doors and lets people know what’s going on.
How will you be getting it into the hands of students if and when the project is funded?
That’s my missing link right now, a distribution network. But once this is out there and in the Apple store, what I’m going to be looking for is some sort of partnership either with a bigger company or some sort of distribution network. I know that there are plenty of programs out there that schools individually sign up for to download these apps. It’s not brand new but it is relatively new, this industry, but it’s really really growing so there is a lot of opportunity out there.
Have you done anything like this before?
Not like this. I’ve published children’s books in the past. I did a series of children’s books based out of my hometown, Margate City, New Jersey. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Margate City, but they have a 90 ton building that is shaped like an elephant. Her name is Lucy and she’s been there since 1881. So I wrote a series of books where she comes to life and travels to places like Philadelphia and New York. They sell the book out of the Statue of Liberty because the statue is actually a character in one of the books.
How did you get linked up with Laura?
Her name in the story is Live because that was her name before she came to America. And she wants to remain as anonymous as she can throughout this process so we’re not using her real last name. So I met her through a friend of my grandparents who works at the Stockton College Holocaust Resource Center. She introduced us. She brought her granddaughter to one of my book signings – her granddaughter actually loves my Lucy the Elephant books – so we started talking. It was right after I had gotten back from a Birthright trip to Israel and I was really interested in writing about something to do with the Holocaust. She knew Laura and she knew that she had this incredible story, but she didn’t know the full extent of the story so that’s why I went down there to interview her. But she knew that Laura’s story involved a dog, the dog’s name is Brisko, and that’s kind of why she made that connection with me because a dog is obviously something that younger people would connect to.
Can you share a little about the story?
Basically, Laura and her family grew up in a little town, or in Yiddish it’s called a shtetl, called Tuchin. There’s only now really research being done about Tuchin and some of the areas of Poland that became Ukraine during the war and turned back into Poland afterward. It’s not a very talked about region during the Holocaust. But Tuchin is a little famous for a revolt that the Jewish people held in the ghetto at Tuchin and that revolt was violent, there was fire, and so basically the story starts off with her kind of living a normal life. First the Russians come and then the Nazis come and the ghetto is built and they are forced into the ghetto. But Laura and her family end up escaping and they are taken in by a family, actually one man, and it’s a very secret thing. He has a family but they’re not really supportive of this. (This man is actually registered as a righteous gentile with the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel.) So they hid Laura and her family on this farm and they were in a hay stack basically for 18 months. This dog, Brisko, was really Laura’s only hope during the whole thing. You know, a little kid hiding out in barely enough space to stand up, let along walk around and stretch. She can hear this dog and see this dog on the farm. And the dog does this really miraculous thing to try to help the family. So it’s really a very unique story.
It is crazy how everyone has such a unique story about their experience in the Holocaust.
Yeah, as I was doing research and writing this book, that’s what I kept saying to myself and other people. But it sort of makes sense because if you survive a situation like that, you really have to have a really unbelievable story just sort of by default. You don’t get out of a situation like that and it’s boring.
And it’s good that they continue to be told.
Learn more about Winkelstein’s Holocaust book and app project and consider donating to the crowdfunding campaign here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/brisko-a-true-tale-of-survival