Using Google Maps to Gain A New Understanding of the Holocaust
This week we will observe Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Every Yom Hashoah, I think of the six millions lives that perished in the Holocaust, including my great-grandparents. My maternal grandparents were both Holocaust survivors. Since they died in 2016 and 2017, I have thought of them even more on Yom Hashoah.
For Yom Hashoah this year, I decided to use Google Maps to tell my grandparents’ story of surviving the Shoah. Before this project I had never plotted their routes of imprisonment, escape, and ultimately freedom. When I put all the points on a map, I looked at their stories through a new prism. I gained a deeper understanding of my grandmother and great-grandmother’s international pursuit of security. I saw for the first time how relatively close the labor camps where my grandfather was a prisoner were to each other. These places were only a few hundred miles from where he grew up.
Mapping these stories is especially important today. We are living in another era of mass migration and displacement. Through mapping my grandparents’ story, I was able to understand that immigration is never straight forward. It is filled with detours, pit stops and dangerous journeys. I also learned that things we deem unconscionable can and do happen, close to our most cherished places of security.
Using maps to tell stories is a technique that can be used to teach about the Shoah and other episodes of genocide and displacement. Plotting survivors’ and victims’ stories can help students visualize and connect with the Shoah in a way that reading a text or a movie cannot. Seeing a journey of displacement forces students to directly consider the impact antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism have on citizens and societies.
In addition to including geographic landmarks on the map, I embedded historical documents about my grandparents where possible. I obtained these documents through trips to archives in Europe and document requests from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. By interacting with the artifacts and the maps like these, my hope is that students will develop a deeper connection to the subject of the Shoah and individuals affected by genocide and displacement.
If you are interested in learning more about how to use Google Maps in your classroom visit the following websites:
I hope that seeing my grandparents’ journey will help students gain a new understanding of the Shoah. May the memories of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust forever be a blessing.
Gabriel Weinstein is a Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications for DigitalJLearning and The Jewish Education Project.