With a $430,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Alberto Giordano will lead a multi-national team in a two-year study of geographical phenomena of the Holocaust. Using Geographic Information Systems technology (GIS), he and his team will conduct four mapping projects that Giordano hopes will answer questions about the Nazis’ strategies for moving their Jewish captives into and out of concentration camps, the forced evacuations or “death marches” from concentration camps at the end of WWII, the accuracy of eyewitness accounts inside concentration camps, and daily life inside the Budapest ghetto.
The Germans deported 76,000 people from France and 10,000 from Ital. In order to answer the question of why the Nazis moved them where they did, Giordano will look for spatial patterns in where the Nazis moved these people.
“I have been studying the Italian records for more than a year, and I’m seeing that, in Italy, a lot of the deportees were moved to a number of locations before they were shipped to concentration camps,” Giordano said. “Often, the Germans would capture one member of a family in one city and other members in other places and reunite them before shipping them to the camps. For instance, the Germans seemed to ship families together, but we don’t know for certain that this was the case. Also, we don’t know why the Germans might have wanted to bring families together before sending them to the camps. By mapping the records of where people were captured and sent, I hope to find patterns that might help us answer these questions.”
In the last months of WWII, the Germans abandoned the concentration camps, in response to the rapid advance of Allied troops from the west, south and east. In some cases, they killed as many of the prisoners as they could before leaving. In most cases, however, they took their prisoners with them, forcing them to march under horrendous conditions to new locations. The marches were known as “death marches” because many prisoners died along the way. The research team will examine the records of hundreds of individuals evacuated from a number of concentration camp—including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Flossenburg and Buchenwald—between January and April 1945, analyzing the proximity of death march routes to population centers--an important factor in assessing the accuracy of bystander accounts and the degree of complicity, hostility and care by local residents.
The team will study digital models of historical maps as well as historical information about local weather and terrain conditions and photography of the evacuees’ burial sites to understand this harrowing experience. The team will also study spatial data to understand the Nazis’ strategies for capturing Jews in urban and rural areas, and they’ll map and analyze data on the executions of women, children and old people in an effort to gain new information.
They will also use the Survivors Registry of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.