Institute News

New IWalk app enhances Holocaust education in Philadelphia

Eszter Kutas’s connection to the Holocaust runs deep: all four of her Hungarian grandparents were Holocaust survivors. 

But the new executive director of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation believes Holocaust education should resonate with everyone, even if they have no such personal connection. 

It was in this spirit that the foundation built a free, outdoor plaza to memorialize the Holocaust.

“When I see people with no connection to the Holocaust really engaging with our material, I think that’s the best compliment we can hear,” she said.  

Today, the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza became all the more accessible to the public with the launch of an app by USC Shoah Foundation that will enhance the walking tours at the space at 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The app is the first U.S. version of IWalk, the USC Shoah Foundation-developed mobile app that connects specific locations with personal testimonials of Holocaust survivors and other witnesses. (Click hereto download the new app and learn about the plaza.)

The launch of the new app, which had existed in beta form since October, had an immediate effect on Holocaust education in Philadelphia. With support from USC Shoah Foundation and the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, ADL Philadelphia today led its first training session for 35 teachers on how to use the new IWalk app.

Part of the training session occurred at the law office of USC Shoah Foundation’s board chair, Stephen Cozen; the other half occurred on the plaza.

The plaza was designed to be as open and accessible as possible, said Kutas. 

“Eighty percent of the United State population has not been to a Holocaust museum,” she said. “We wanted to create a museum without walls – a living classroom and open gathering place for remembrance, reflection and dialogue.”

The plaza opened in October. It was built around an 18-foot-tall scultpure that, when it was erected in 1964, became the first monument to the Holocaust in the United States. Created by internationally renowned sculptor and Holocaust survivor Nathan Rapoport, the Six Million Jewish Martyrs Monument was commissioned by a group of Holocaust survivors and local Jewish leaders.

In October, the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation – which is chaired by David Adelman, who also sits on USC Shoah Foundation’s Board of Councilors – added several features to the space: original train tracks that were used to transport Jews to various Nazi death camps; a sapling of a tree nurtured by children in the Theresienstadt concentration camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia; and a tree grove representing the woodlands that sheltered the heroes of the resistance movement.

The foundation also installed “Six Pillars,” or plaques that memorialize the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Presented in pairs, the pillars contrast American constitutional protections and values with atrocities of the Holocaust – such as “Natural Rights” and “The Nuremberg Laws” – to demonstrate the belief that as long as the United States remains faithful to the Constitution, a genocide like the Holocaust will not occur here.

The new IWalk app includes three separate themes for plaza users: “History of the Holocaust,” “Propaganda and Antisemitism,” and “Understanding Contemporary Antisemitism.”

The first, “History of the Holocaust,” takes students and the general public through some of the main exhibits of the plaza, starting with the sculpture. 

The second, “Propaganda and Antisemitism,” discusses the outsize role propaganda played in Nazi Germany, which, beginning in 1933, sought to polarize its citizenry by dividing it into two camps: those the Reich declared superior (members of the “Aryan master race”) and those it deemed inferior (Jews, homosexuals, trade unionists and Sinti-Roma “gypsies”). 

This IWalk theme includes a short clip of testimony from Esther Clifford, a Holocaust survivor who recalls what it was like – as a young girl in Munich, Germany – to see people of all ages reading a popular Nazi propaganda newspaper that depicted Jews as greedy and dangerous.

“Here I was walking to school, and people were actually reading this – young people, old people, all ages,” Clifford says. “By the time I got to school, I couldn’t learn.”

The third IWalk theme, “Understanding Contemporary Antisemitism,” begins with users studying the pillars that contrast Natural Rights as articulated by George Washington with the Nuremberg Laws, which, among other things, prohibited marriage between Jews and non-Jews.

It includes clips from USC Shoah Foundation’s new collection of testimonies from people who have witnessed contemporary acts of antisemitism.  Among them is Mette Bentow, whose daughter was celebrating her bat mitzvah at a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, when a gunman opened fire, killing a security guard and wounding two others.

The “Understanding Contemporary Antisemitism” theme also includes a clip from Holocaust survivor Suzy Ressler, a resident of the Philadelphia area who shared her story with USC Shoah Foundation and Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation. Ressler expressed alarm that antisemitic acts are still occurring.

“I think that people have to remember how bad hatred is,” she says. “Because it’s very easy to fall in the habit of hate.”