The Holocaust was transformative in world history, affecting nations and peoples across Europe, the legacies of which are still felt today. In 1941, the Nazi and their allies occupied part of the Soviet Union, which became a crucible of mass killing that transformed the persecution of Jews and others into what we now call the Holocaust. Perpetrators sought out expedient means of eradicating communities that moved beyond death by bullets into the realms of incinerations and gassings. The destruction unleashed in Ukraine, divided into German and Romanian zones, played a key role in developing the Final Solution that has been understudied and overlooked in scholarship. The reasons why are manifold and include poor access to archives prior to 1989-91, the wartime partition between Germany and Romania that has fractured archival records, as well as the multiple languages needed to research on Ukraine.
Yet perpetration in Ukraine, especially in 1941, was fundamental in shaping how the Nazis conducted genocide throughout Europe. Whereas the formerly German-occupied zone has recently garnered more scholarly attention, Romanian-occupied Ukraine still lacks significant scholarship. Romania was the second largest perpetrating state after Germany, enacting its own killing policies independently from those of their Nazi allies. The extension of inquiry into Romanian-controlled Ukraine deepens our understanding of the Holocaust by opening the scope of perpetrators, victims and bystanders, thus reshaping our knowledge.
I propose a digital study of the Holocaust in Ukraine and its aftermath, pairing an understudied topic with new techniques emerging within the digital humanities field that scholars are just beginning to apply to Holocaust studies. I believe this will transform how we view this history and its legacy. Digital tools prime us to ask new questions about the Holocaust by spatially centering our knowledge, beginning with: How can visualizations of geographic spaces affect research, memory and education about the Holocaust? How can remembrance, commemoration and education on the Holocaust occur without a fuller accounting of atrocities, brought out through archives, testimonies, artifacts, mappings and other research methods? How can digital humanities change our understanding of the Holocaust?
Contribution of the Project
This project will use digital humanities tools and GIS mapping to re-conceptualize and innovate study of the Holocaust in Ukraine and beyond. It makes three key contributions to scholarship, enriching fields such as history, memory studies, education, sociology and geography, to name a few. First, the project extends previous academic work by looking at German and Romanian perpetration in tandem, thus avoiding pitfalls encountered by other academic studies on Ukraine. Secondly, it examines the fate of Jewish and Romani victims concurrently, widening the lens of atrocity and perpetration. Typically, scholars separate these victim groups in studies, even though both peoples were in camps and ghettos, suffering and dying under the brutality of Romanian and German administrations, having sometimes overlapping yet distinct experiences. Thirdly, it examines atrocity sites, memorial spaces, places of memory and educational initiatives of the Holocaust using digital humanities and GIS mapping to understand how post-war erasures and silences under communism affect contemporary understandings of the Holocaust.
Goals of the Project
For this phase, we begin by mapping the camps, ghettos, death marches and killing fields in Ukraine, as well as documenting monuments, memorials and educational initiatives using GIS. I and other project personnel will travel to Ukraine for mapping work. Some sites coordinates are available already, but others must yet be mapped. Our larger goals include, but are not limited to, creating a public website, which will offer a curated databases of materials, as well as resources for teachers, researchers and students. We envision a forum for interested individuals to create critical conversations about the Holocaust and its legacies.