Mapping the Holocaust

Alberto Giordano, an associate professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, and Anne Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont, have been awarded a $430,000 grant to use computerized models to create a geographic analysis of the Holocaust. The two-year study will be examining “the evolution of the concentration camp system, the deportation of Jews from France and Italy, life inside the Budapest ghetto and the death marches from Auschwitz.”

The survey is hoping to address a number of questions, including:

Were Jews from certain cities or backgrounds more likely to survive?
Could people living near the routes where prisoners from Auschwitz were forced to march have seen more than they have acknowledged of this harrowing experience?
Which restaurants, cinemas and bath houses in Budapest could Jews frequent, and how did the shape of the ghetto evolve?

While the use of geographic representations of the Holocaust isn’t unique, the analysis will take into account variables that have never been examined before — terrain, weather, and elevation.

That’s not to say that the geography of the Holocaust has never been examined. For instance, the historian Martin Gilbert has published an atlas of the Holocaust with 316 maps tracing the destruction of Jewish communities.

Giordano and Knowles plan to incorporate elevation records, quasi-three-dimensional modeling and cluster analysis, a method of determining patterns or groups, in their research and maps.

“By applying tools that were not imaginable even 20 years ago to massive amounts of data, we can study Holocaust history in a way we couldn’t in the past,” said Michael Haley Goldman, the director of the Holocaust museum’s Registry of Holocaust Survivors.

The Holocaust has been studied through various disciplines over the years — psychology, sociology, art, literature, music, and history — but new technologies are allowing researchers to look at events in radically new and detailed ways. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for instance, has been interactive maps for educational and awareness for the last several years.

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