A new mobile app called IWalk is breathing life into the traditional white stone of the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza as it guides visitors through elements of the memorial to the backdrop of personal testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses from Philadelphia.
IWalk contextualizes the atrocity of genocide by humanizing the history of the memorial at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The guided experience intends to help visitors explore the universal lessons of the Holocaust, hoping they will counter prejudice, hatred and indifference.
IWalk takes middle and high school students and the general public through a multimedia learning experience, including videos, maps, photographs and personal accounts. The USC Shoah Foundation-developed app was first launched in Europe where it connects specific locations with personal testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses.
The Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, which facilitated construction of the memorial and its endowment, and the Shoah Foundation recently partnered with ADL Philadelphia to train area teachers on the IWalk’s curriculum.
On April 10, nearly 30 high school and college-level educators from diverse backgrounds attended the program hosted by the law firm Cozen O’Conner. Many of the educators teach history and specific courses in genocide, and have themselves taken college level courses on teaching about genocide.
“Tolerance requires empathy,” said Marsha Dworkin from Delaware County, one of the educators who visited the memorial to test the app as part of the training. She and other educators are seeking new ways to teach social responsibility and to humanize the Holocaust and other genocides.
The high volume of digital information coming at kids creates a desensitization to violence, said Dworkin, who has worked in education for 37 years.
“Hearing the voices and stories of real people engages the students on a much higher level than just reading text,” she said. “IWalk has the potential to teach students not only history, but to stand up to racism and civil rights violations.” Dworkin lost several of her own family members in the Holocaust.
Jennifer Kluger, a U.S. history teacher at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School in Philadelphia, also attended the training. She created a course called genocide studies open to seniors that, in addition to the Holocaust, teaches about the Cambodian, Armenian and Rwandan genocides. Her class will visit the memorial in May and plans to use IWalk as a digital tool. Her class has already met a few Holocaust survivors in Philadelphia.
“It’s important to adapt education to the kid’s devices. They are digitally native and this is how they are used to consuming information,” Kluger said.
Jordan Cerone, 18, a student in Kluger’s genocide course, said the app is easy to navigate and informative, but “there is lot to read, which may interfere with the experience at the plaza.” She suggested doing the reading before you go, while other students say more audio may be helpful.
IWalk includes three themes for users: “History of the Holocaust,” “Propaganda and Anti-Semitism” and “Understanding Contemporary Anti-Semitism.”
The third theme begins with users studying the pillars that contrast natural rights as expressed by George Washington with the Nuremberg Laws, which, for example, prohibited marriage between Jews and non-Jews.
It also includes clips from the Shoah Foundation’s new collection of testimonies from people who have witnessed contemporary acts of violent anti-Semitism. Founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 to videotape and preserve interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust, the Shoah Foundation houses nearly 55,000 audiovisual testimonies conducted in 65 countries.
In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. surged nearly 60 percent, the highest single-year increase on record. In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents in Pennsylvania rose 43 percent, a significant number in schools and colleges, according to the local ADL chapter.
“Memorials are there to remind us of the people who lived and the people who died, but the good ones inspire us to act differently next time,” Kluger said. In the absence of justice, memorials can sometimes help bring closure, she explained, and this memorial teaches about the history, while teaching us how to safeguard our democracy.
When a user opens IWalk, it displays a map of the area to guide you. Numbered sites displayed on the map correspond to images of sites located in the memorial. The user taps and swipes through the images to view explanations, which are followed by photographs, written biographies and video of personal testimonies.
IWalk features a list of questions created by the Shoah Foundation, and students have the ability to answer these questions within the app via a class code created by their teacher. Teachers are able to view these answers for later classroom dialogue.
Created in just 14 weeks, IWalk is styled for education and to be used outside, particularly in the daylight, said app designer Flo Truong of Substantial, a digital products studio based in Seattle. Truong was at the memorial to guide educators in using the app.
“A modern and clean look was chosen to respect the gravity of the subject matter, with a white background and sharp corners in the design,” Truong said, and the app was designed to be as accessible as possible.
IWalk is available for iPhones and Androids. Download the app before you go, and be a little patient if you have an Android. To download the app, visit philaholocaustmemorial.org/visit/. Headphones are essential for the experience in the highly trafficked area. If you are unable to visit in person, the app does function as a virtual tour.