Understanding the Holocaust through Geography

Resilient Societies

The places and spaces where history unfolds shape the way events take place, and in turn shape the stories later generations tell each other about who we are and where we come from. Few single events have shaped the collective story of the Western world more than the Second World War and the Holocaust. In an effort to bring life to the experiences of the Holocaust, a multi-national collaborative of geographers and historians from several distinguished institutions have spent the last decade examining the places and spaces where it happened. Two members of the Texas State community have contributed to the research: Dr. Alberto Giordano, chair of the Department of Geography and one of the collaborative’s principal researchers, and geography Ph.D. student Maël Le Noc, who is working under Giordano’s supervision.

Holocaust Memorial

The Holocaust Geographies Collaborative has worked on a series of research projects funded by a variety of institutions and agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Holocaust Educational Foundation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California, and the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure, among others. These projects have resulted in a series of edited volumes, book chapters and journal articles centered on a number of case studies examining the spatial realities of the Holocaust, using illustrated maps and graphics to show how the genocide was planned, organized and executed. Resources produced include maps showing the opening and closing of concentration camps, the locations of arrests of Jewish victims of the Holocaust in Italy (along with personal information on those arrested like name, age and gender), and evacuation routes taken by camp prisoners on fatal “death marches” at the end of the war, as well as more intimate analyses of the layout of the Auschwitz camp, ghettos in Budapest, and how camp guards arranged themselves spatially in order to maintain control of prisoners and facilitate the brutal efficiency of the Nazi death machine.


Dr. Alberto Giordano

Currently Giordano and Dr. Tim Cole of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom are principal investigators of a project funded by the Toni Schiff Memorial Fund in the U.K. aimed at mapping Holocaust rescue and survival in the city of Budapest, Hungary. Before World War II, Budapest had a Jewish population of roughly 200,000, which increased in the early years of the war as Jewish refugees arrived from the rest of the country and outside Hungary. The Nazis occupied Hungary in March 1944 and together with the allied Hungarian government instituted a campaign of confinement, deportation, ghettoization and murder against the Jews of Budapest. 70,000 people were marched out of the city to camps in Germany and Austria, and in the two months prior to the liberation of Budapest by Soviet forces in February 1945, 20,000 people were taken from the ghetto, shot and thrown in the river. However, thanks to the work of public sympathizers and foreign diplomats, tens of thousands of Jews were provided with false papers, safe houses and transport out of the city. Giordano and Cole are working with a list of approximately 75,000 survivors created in 1945 to map Jewish survival in Budapest and reconstruct personal narratives using victim testimonies, archival materials and other historical sources.

Maël Le Noc’s work focuses on the separation of families and the trauma that such an event can cause. Using detailed data on the arrests of Jews in Italy, Le Noc has produced studies identifying family members arrested either in their homes or on the run, and how they were split up on their journey from their initial arrests to their final destinations. He found that spouses, and adult children and parents, were the two most likely groups to be separated. Fathers were often separated from their wives and younger children shortly after arrest, sent for forced labor if they were healthy or execution if they were not. Young children and their mothers tended to stay together through arrest, transport and detention, although this was not always the case. Le Noc’s work is extremely valuable because family groups play a huge role in mass migrations and genocide. Families are easy targets for aggressors because they tend to live close to one another and seek shelter or escape together when threatened. Parents attempting to smuggle three young children would find evading fascist gangs and Nazi perpetrators essentially impossible.

Arrest charts

The collaborative will continue to produce stunning and insightful interpretations of the records left behind by the Holocaust and give voice and weight to the stories of the victims by placing their experience squarely in the real world through maps and graphics. The research, maps, and publications produced by the collaborative can be explored at the Holocaust Geographies Collaborative website

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