A group of 9 historians, art historians, geographers, and historical geographers participated in a two-week Summer Research Workshop on Geographies of the Holocaust in August, 2007 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. The workshop’s objectives were to determine (1) the potential benefits of applying geographic methods, such as spatial analysis and visualization, to the study of the Holocaust and (2) the extent to which debates in human and cultural geography about “placing the past” (i.e., knowledge of the past as temporal as well as cartographic) could be applied to the Holocaust. The workshop generated the precursors of the projects displayed on this website and demonstrated both the profound geographical nature of the Holocaust and the need for scholars to include such methodologies in their research.
Based on the success of the workshop, the participants obtained funding from the United States National Science Foundation (NSF Grant No. 0820487) to continue the effort. The project, Holocaust Historical GIS, was conducted between August, 2008 and March, 2011. The principal objective of the study was to further develop the sub-projects originally instigated during the workshop in order to explore the varying scales of the Holocaust’s locations of incarceration and experience. The geographic analysis of the distributions of people, places, and events allowed the researchers to uncover the spatial logic of the Holocaust, shedding new light on the relationships, networks, and connections that are often obscured in the historical record and showing that geographical methods of inquiry were particularly suited to the analysis of the spatial dimensions of the Holocaust’s perpetration, witness, and experience. The project has already produced a number of scholarly articles and will culminate in the publication of a volume.
The principal investigators on the National Science Foundation grant were Anne Kelly Knowles (Middlebury College, VT) and Alberto Giordano (Texas State University, San Marcos). The members of the team included: Waitman Beorn (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Tim Cole (University of Bristol, United Kingdom), Simone Gigliotti (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand), Anna Holian (Arizona State University, Phoenix), Paul B. Jaskot (DePaul University, Chicago, IL), and Erik Steiner (Stanford University, CA).
The Auschwitz case study explores spatial and physical dimensions of this most extreme site of genocide. Using geo-visualization tools and with an analysis of the architectural and urban planning archival resources, we show how analyzing spatial problems helps us to clarify the experience of the victim and the history of the SS development of the site.
Landscapes of Experience: Representing the Evacuations from the Auschwitz Camp System during January 1945
The study on the evacuations from the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp system is a spatial and temporal exploration of how the landscape and environment shaped and transformed the conduct, course, and survivors’ experiences of the evacuations. The challenges raised by this study are centered in the use of geographic and cartographic methods to reconstruct the course, implementation and impact of the evacuations and to visualize the experiences of the victims, as well as those of onlookers and perpetrators in the landscape of Lower Silesia. At the core of the geovisualization of the evacuations lies the delineation of historical and geographical ‘certainties’ and ‘uncertainties’ surrounding the experience of the evacuations along icy roads and our attempt to answer the following question: can we ‘map’ the experience of suffering, persecution, and resilience, using existing geographic methods?
The Budapest Ghetto
In Budapest, the nature of ghettoization was somewhat unusual. In the summer of 1944, Jews were placed into just under 2000 apartment buildings - marked with a prominently placed yellow star - dispersed throughout the city. In the winter of 1944-45, Jews were removed from this dispersed ghetto and placed into two more concentrated ghettos: a fenced ghetto (the Pest ghetto) in the city's VII district or a cluster of protected houses (the International ghetto) in the city's V district where Jews with protective passes provided by e.g. Swedish and Swiss legations were housed. We map the shifting shape of ghettoization in Budapest in order to explore the tensions between concentration and dispersion, visibility and invisibility, and accessibility and inacessibility.
A Geography of Complicity: Spaces and Mentalities in Wehrmacht participation in Einsatzgruppen Killings in the Soviet Union
This project asks how we can apply a geographical approach to investigating how and why individuals became involved in genocide at the local level, using German soldiers as a case study. I am interested in how more theoretical geographical concepts can be applied to the history of the Holocaust. Therefore, this study is less technical but rather explores how spatial thinking can offer new modes of analysis to an investigation of perpetrator behavior. Looking at the relationships between killers and victims in both time and space and at different scales brings us to a micro-geography of killing places and spurs the question: can we map complicity?
The Holocaust in Italy
In this case-study we examine the Holocaust in Italy from a geographical perspective, trying to uncover the local, regional, and national patterns of arrest of Jewish victims. Our focus is on the socio-demographic characteristics of the victims (age, gender, etc.) and the identities of the perpetrators. In addition to the geographic dimension, in our analysis we also look at temporal differences in the patterns of arrest.
Mapping the SS Concentration Camp System Over Space and Time
The camps historical GIS project is based on the comprehensive list of S.S. concentration camps and sub-camps presented in volume 1 of the Center’s Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, published by Indiana University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Our chief goal has been to visualize and then study the spatial and temporal dynamics of the S.S. camps as a system on the continental scale and within particular regions. We have examined key attributes of subcamps, such as their primary functions, to see where and when prisoners’ labor was put to particular uses by the camps system. We have also combined the camps GIS with other data, such as the movement of front lines as the Allies advanced after the Battle of the Bulge in 1945, to see whether geovisualization of diverse information can illuminate relationships between the Holocaust and other important aspects of World War II.