Exploring the Vilnius Ghetto

A digital monument to the Jewish ghetto

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This map was created for reVILNA a digital mapping project of the Vilna Ghetto. The map allows users to explore the streets and buildings of the Vilna Ghetto from the perspective of those who lived in it. It tells the story of a remarkable group of people who lived (and died) in one of the darkest periods in modern history. It reveals how the human spirit survived, and even thrived, against persistent and sustained efforts to crush it. The interactive map explores the culture, education, health, government and resistance that played out within its boundaries and matches the narrative with dozens of rare, sometimes very personal, photographic documentation creating a powerfully moving experience. reVILNA is the brainchild of Menachem Kaiser whose goal was to make holocaust history more practically accessible not only for us today but for future generations. The project is as unprecedented and groundbreaking as it is innovative in its use of technology and geographical science and represents a turning point in the way we can experience and deliver holocaust education and scholarship.

The map is based on over 200 places of historical significance categorized after carefully sifting and sorting thousands of articles, memoires, and geographical histories. Today, visitors to the Vilna Ghetto can virtually experience the past in the present by mapping their tour on smart phones or tablets. Using GPS they can geo-locate, simultaneously viewing photographs and information relevant to the very places in which they stand. Being based on primary historic documents and linked to present geography, this map is a ‘living’ monument that is constantly updated with any new information uncovered thereby guaranteeing each visitor to Vilna a unique experience for years to come whether they choose to visit physically or virtually.

Presenting qualitative data in a structured digital format is always a challenge, but with historicity and sensitivity such as is inherent in the story of the Vilna Ghetto this challenge was magnified. The map is a detailed and interactive composite, a living monument, to the lives and experiences of those who lived in the Vilna Ghetto, before it was liquidated, over seventy years ago. The past is introduced to the present with an animation that is simple yet instantly engaging. The UI caters to every age and ability of visitor and is completely accessible for both the tech savvy and the technophobe. It features a step-by-step approach, multi-screen adaptability (including for smart phones, tablets, even museum kiosks), and forward and back buttons. There is also a search function (buildings, places, people) for the more experienced user who has a specific quest or interest in mind.

The map was built on the open-source platform Leaflet using Javascript and HTML5 linked to an updatable MYSQL database, which enables wide accessibility and adaptability to multiple screens. The integrated basemap was designed in Tilemill using OpenStreetMap extracts from Cloudmade. There is also a mobile version of the map that affords touch screen smart phone users the ability to geo-locate and navigate the Vilna Ghetto as it was.

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