During its roughly two-year existence, the Vilna Ghetto—located in Vilnius, Lithuania, and operated by Nazi Germany during World War II—had a population that was reduced from an estimated 40,000 to nearly zero. After learning of the ghetto, Fulbright Scholar and alumnus Menachem Kaiser ’09 spent the past year and half creating reVilna, an interactive map of the ghetto created from the pairing of more than 200 points of historical significance with more than 100 photos. The result is an immersive digital experience with mobile capabilities, which allows users to explore the area as it existed more than 70 years ago via a themed tour, self-exploration or searching for a specific location or event.
Kaiser spent time in Vilnius, Lithuania, while on a Fulbright, and he soon realized that because of the lack of access to historical information, the story of the Vilna ghetto was going largely untold.
“In Vilnius, you can immediately see how badly something like this is needed. There is next to nothing in the way of physical commemoration, and the books and museums are very hard to navigate—they are, quite simply, masses of texts. Because of this, it's very difficult for the layman to understand what the ghetto was—and it was so much more than a neighborhood prison, which is the way it's commonly understood. The ghetto has a lot of fascinating history and it’s important that it not be lost,” Kaiser said.
Given his interest in the ghetto’s historical significance, Kaiser set out to spearhead a project that would organize available historical artifacts and information in a more accessible way, and he settled on an interactive online map as the most effective approach. Others agree, and throughout the past year and a half, several institutions have supported the venture, including the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and the Vilna Gaon State Museum.
This summer, Kaiser will return to Lithuania to complete a residency. He will also continue pursuing his writing career, authoring stories in Minsk, Krakow, Vilnius and Dallas, as well as working on a book in which he will use the Vilna ghetto as a lens to explore the notion of historical space.
To learn more about the reVilna project, visit the project’s Kickstarter page.
Remapping the Vilnius Ghetto; Jerusalem Post; May 23, 2013
The Vilna Ghetto - Digitized;The Yiddish Forverts!, May 14, 2013
Remapping the Vilnius Ghetto, JNS, May 13, 2013