How a father's final message motivated a Holocaust survivor to record his memories

Max Eisen is one of the participants in a project that will let future generations engage in real-time conversations with Holocaust survivors, even after their deaths. Producer Shari Finkelstein writes about meeting Eisen and watching him tell his story.

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This week on 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl reports on an effort to preserve Holocaust survivors' memories in a way that will allow them to answer questions from future generations. One of the most remarkable people we met working on this story was Holocaust survivor Max Eisen. He lives in Toronto but had traveled to Los Angeles for five long days of intensive interviews with the USC Shoah Foundation team, who asked him about his childhood in the former Czechoslovakia, his deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp with his entire family when he was a teenager, and the horrors he experienced as a slave laborer in the camp. 

Eisen's hours and hours of interview footage will be put into a database and processed so that people long into the future will be able to ask him their own questions, and artificial intelligence algorithms will retrieve the appropriate answer from the database, enabling real-time conversations with him to continue -- forever. 

Amidst the tragic loss, cruelty, and horror Eisen experienced during the war, there were also acts of kindness, one of which saved his life. In the clip above, we watched as Eisen spoke about the Polish surgeon who he credits with his survival, and he told us about the last words his father told him as they were separated for the last time, which helped push him to take part in the project. 

"And so my father gave me a blessing, which is a custom in a Jewish family, Friday night when we come home from synagogue. And he told me if I managed to survive, I must tell the world what happened here," Eisen said. "This was the last thing that my father told me."

Eisen turned 91 in March. Until a few weeks ago, when the coronavirus stopped all gatherings, he maintained a remarkable travel and speaking schedule, sharing his story widely. He's also written a memoir, called "By Chance Alone."