Gearing up for Great Books – Nazi VR and Man’s Search for Meaning

In between grading and meetings, today I’m also getting ready to lead the discussion of Viktor Frankl’s classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Wednesday night at MSOE’s Great Books Dinner & Discussion event.

As part of my prep, I found a short film, Nazi VR, which tells the story of Reinhold Hanning, a 94-year-old former SS guard at Auschwitz who last spring was tried and convicted of war crimes (170,000 counts of murder, which covers the number of people who died at the camp during Hanning’s time there). Hanning claimed that because his job did not place him in a position to have seen what was happening at the camp, he could not have known about people dying in the gas chambers and was therefore not guilty of murder.

I had already read articles about this trial last spring and found it fascinating  that forensic VR engineers were able to use current film footage of Auschwitz along with blueprints of the original (now long vanished) buildings to construct a virtual reality reincarnation of the death camp as it would have looked during Hanning’s tenure. The VR model allowed the judge to see what Hanning actually could have seen from his post, and that was convincing enough to lead to the “guilty” verdict.

Here is a very short clip I found on YouTube demonstrating the VR replica. As you can see, the graphics are very similar to what you’d see while playing a video game.

And here is the longer film, clocking in at around 16 minutes. This one also shows VR’s capabilities for 3-D crime scene recreation, which I think is really intriguing because once you’ve done the scan, investigators can return too the scene again and again to examine the evidence, and even use algorithms to calculate bullet direction and pinpoint where shots came from, even superimposing the bullet’s path onto the VR image.

All this is only tangentially related to the philosopy and description of logotherapy at the heart of Frankl’s book, but because he was imprisoned at Auschwitz and spends the first part of his memoir recounting the horrors of that place (and other camps he spent time in), it’s relevant. So I imagine some of this will wind up in my booklet of background materials I always distribute to participants.

In any case, I’m feeling rather pleased with myself for so very efficiently managing to get a blog post up while at the same time prepping for my discussion 🙂

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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