New Virtual IWalk Web App Brings Remote Users to Holocaust-Related Historical Sites

Thu, 01/27/2022 - 7:00am

USC Shoah Foundation today launches a new Virtual IWalk web app that enables students and teachers to tour historic sites online while watching and listening to witness testimonies from the Visual History Archive.

First launched by USC Shoah Foundation in 2014, IWalk is an interactive educational app (available from Apple App Store & Google Play) that connects concrete physical sites with the testimonies of people who were there.

USC Shoah Foundation currently offers 52 mobile app IWalks in 12 countries and 12 languages, enabling users in Poland, for instance, to listen to testimonies as they tour the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto and gain a sense of the daily struggles of those forced to live there.

The original IWalk app requires a user to be physically present at the site of a tour—in the case of the Warsaw Ghetto experience, in the Polish capital—with a mobile device. The resulting in-person experience, with survivor testimony humanizing the surrounding spaces, is unique.

The new Virtual IWalk web app, launched today to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, brings the physical sites to the student, with at-home or in-classroom users able to explore historical locations while engaging with compelling survivor testimony.

“With rising hatred and antisemitism globally, the need for innovative, student-centered learning opportunities has never been greater,” said Lesly Culp, Head of Programs in Education at USC Shoah Foundation. “This next-generation Virtual IWalk technology empowers educators to take their students on revelatory online field trips that would otherwise be impossible without travel.”

The groundbreaking Virtual IWalk web app was developed by Substantial, an Insights, Design + Development Studio. It is designed to accommodate 360-degree technology—funded by generous support from the Snider Foundation—that can capture an interviewee and the surrounding location in a single shot, thereby allowing viewers to feel like they are standing with the survivor at the location.  

The new Virtual IWalk web app is another new resource of The Willesden Project, which is funded by generous support from the Koret Foundation. 

The first Virtual IWalk tour follows in the footsteps of Holocaust survivor and concert pianist Lisa Jura, who, as antisemitism escalated in 1938 Austria, was sent by her parents from Vienna to London on the Kindertransport. Viewers can experience Lisa’s life in Vienna; her trip through the Hook of Holland and Rotterdam; and finally, her arrival to and life in London.

USC Shoah Foundation will hold a webinar in February to train teachers in how to use the technology. The Virtual IWalk web app also functions as an IWitness activity, meaning teachers can assign tours to their students and review their responses to questions and activities on the IWitness platform. 

Looking ahead, USC Shoah Foundation plans to continue to expand its mobile and Virtual IWalk web options, with new content that will include testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Armenian Genocide and the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.