In September 1941, the Nazis mandated that all Jewish residents of Vilna (modern-day Vilnius) move into one of two ghettos, located in the center of the city, right next to the town square. The initial population of the two ghettos was about forty thousand; purges quickly brought that down to fifteen thousand.
When the ghetto was liquidated, in September 1943, almost nobody survived.
The Vilna Ghetto, in popular conception, is a place where people were rounded up, held, and sent to their deaths. But this is far from the whole story. For over a year, beginning in early 1942, life in the ghetto stabilized, and there was remarkable life, even vitality, within its walls -- restaurants, theatrical productions, brothels, art, police and judiciary system, and other markers of a living, functioning society.
"How people perished in the Ghetto - that I understand; what I cannot understand is how they lived." -- Chaim Grade
reVILNA is a project dedicated to reimagining the historical space of the Vilna Ghetto; to allow, via technology and geographical science, the Ghetto to be digitally explored.
Researchers went through memoirs, archives, original ghetto documents, and histories, and geographically tagged nearly two hundred significant points and events in the ghetto. These were then mapped out, painstakingly organized into either chronological or location-based narratives, and paired with dozens of rare photographs.
The result is an unprecedented work of Holocaust scholarship: a fully immersible, dynamic, and interactive map of the Ghetto. Users can follow a tour, use the filters to explore on their own, or search for specific sites or events with the built-in search tool.
"reVILNA is one of the most significant advancements in Holocaust scholarship I've ever seen -- a dazzling and effective combination of technology, geography, and history." -- Laimis Briedis, Geographer at the University of British Columbia
The map offers a rare glimpse into the Vilna Ghetto's little-known histories: the resistance fighters, who smuggled arms through the sewer systems and trained in the basement of the library; the short-lived uprising; the remarkable hospital, which had laboratories and operating room, even, reportedly, brain surgery; the towering cultural achievements; the wildly popular sporting tournaments; the manufacturing of pharmaceutical drugs in the Ghetto; capital punishment carried out by the Jewish Ghetto administration -- and so much more.
The Vilna Ghetto is one of the most astonishing, textured spaces in modern history; and reVILNA seeks to capture and present that. Take a look.
reVILNA is a three-tiered project. Firstly, the map is fully accessible online and completely free. Second, the database/software will be made available to any interested museum/institution for either physical or online installation; each institution can easily customize the map to their specifications. Third, a dedicated mobile version, with GPS-capability, will be finalized in the coming weeks; visitors to the Vilna Ghetto will then be able to pinpoint their location and view relevant information and photographs.
reVILNA is a revolutionary tool in Holocaust education and scholarship. By focusing on accessibility and design, reVILNA is easy and intuitive enough for anyone to experience.
Top-notch design and programming are expensive. Our development costs alone are almost $30,000, and that doesn't include research, translations, web hosting, or salaries. Private and institutional donations have covered more than 50% of our costs -- and we're reaching out to you for the last little bit, to make sure everything about this project shines.
Risks and challenges
We are 100% committed to this project. That said, smoothing everything out is a time-consuming process, and there may be delays with a bug-free mobile and desktop version. Though most of the research has been done, we still have to finalize and clean up the final version. reVILNA is a fully dynamic work and will incorporate new information about the Ghetto as it emerges.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (35 days)