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Innovative Projects and Apps with ITS Data

Retrace the footsteps of Jewish children in Berlin – now it’s possible with the “Marbles of Remembrance” app. An international team developed it late last year at the culture hackathon “Coding da Vinci” in Berlin. The basis for this and another project was the card file of the Reich Association of Jews which the International Tracing Service (ITS) released for use at the hackathon along with extensive metadata.

Culture “hackathons” bring cultural institutions together with app programmers, web designers, augmented reality experts and others of that ilk. Within a prescribed timespan, the digital experts work creatively with the archive, library and museum datasets to find new ways of introducing the little-used material to the public. For the ITS, the digital humanities are an important means of making its valuable data holdings accessible to the coming generations. 

The card file of the Reich Association of Jews contains metadata on 32,000 cards. This data offers an excellent basis for learning about Jews and Jewish life in Berlin during the Nazi era. Two of the altogether fifteen hackathon teams decided to work with it: the programmer Stefan Bartsch and a team of four from Hungary, El Salvador, Brazil and Germany. For their “Marbles of Remembrance” project, Leonardo de Araújo, Nina Hentschel, Adrienn Kovács and Nicole Mayorga used the so-called school pupil cards from the association’s card file. In the programming contest, their app won the “Out of Competition” jury prize for especially valuable cultural achievements.

During the six-week contest, the team developed three app functions. To begin with, the user can learn about the youngest victims of the Holocaust. For example, he can enter the name inscribed on a stolperstein and view a related map. He can also turn on his cell phone’s GPS function while walking around in Berlin. When he passes a former Jewish school or the site of a house a Jewish family lived in before 1945, it will show up on his display. Background information on the stolpersteins will also appear automatically.

And thirdly, the app offers two walking tours of the city, each retracing the footsteps of a Jewish child. On these tours, app users get to know Majan Freier and Isaak Behar, two Jewish school pupils of Berlin. As a way of showing that the maps use only elements from the lives of real people, the team enhanced the file cards with further biographical material. In the style of a WhatsApp chat, Majan and Isaak guide the user through “their” city. They also introduce their families, for example by showing photos or other documents from their lives, and they talk about which synagogues they went to. The app is available for downloading free of charge, and the team is planning to add new features. For example, by way of crowdsourcing: to make the bot more alive, anyone will be able to upload photos, documents and biographical information about a person. The app will soon encompass present-day Jewish life in Berlin as well. 

For the second project based on the Reich Association of Jews card file, particularly the deeper-level metadata was important. For his “Visualization of Jewish Life,” Stefan Bartsch compiled around 100,000 personal datasets from the minority census of 1939, the German federal archive memorial book, and the 1931 Jewish directory of Greater Berlin. Users can have a map in the internet show them where Jewish families lived in Berlin. They can also evaluate the material statistically, for example filter it by the profession or age of the Jewish inhabitants, or where they went when they emigrated. By means of a free license, the ITS is contributing to both projects’ further development and to ensuring that they will find many users.