Sources who Speak – a Little Online Tour

Since January 30, 2013 you can find documents and photographs from our archival collections and those of the Leo Baeck Institute in our Online Showcase. We are, of course, not the only ones producing work online using historical sources as witnesses to the time of National Socialism. I have looked around and would like to use this post to make some recommendations:

Screenshot of the website "onthisday80yearsago"An impressive example is Torkel S. Wächter’s project. The Swedish writer arranged together 32 postcards when he decided to investigate the history of his German-Jewish family. His father Walter Wächter fled to Sweden in 1938 and began regularly receiving postcards from his parents, who had remained in Germany. Torkel S. Wächter created the internet project out of them and in 2010/2011 – 70 years later, to the day, after the card was written – he published these last life testimonies of his grandparents, annotated and placed in historical context. Wächter is now again presenting his longstanding engagement with his family’s history as an online project: In a literary form – with the aid of letters, notes from journals, and official documents, he tells the story of his grandfather Gustav Wächter, a tax officer who lost his job due to his Jewish heritage and office scheming. Torkel S. Wächter published the chapters from January 30 to July 2, 2013 in “simulated real-time”, as he calls it, rather like a re-enactment of the events of 80 years ago. A serialized novel, a weblog, and memory itself merge together harmoniously here.

Screenshot of the Website "Die Quellen sprechen"A project by the Bavarian State Radio is letting “The Sources Speak” (in German). It is based on a research project entitled “The Persecution and Killing of European Jews in Nazi Germany 1933-1945,” conceived as a 16-volume collection of sources and official as well as personal documents of the victims and perpetrators. It will include written laws and diary entries, administrative papers and letters to the editor, meeting reports and eyewitness testimonies. On the radio project’s own website, which has been created entirely without pictures, you can find “documentary audio files” with actors as well as contemporary witnesses reading from selected documents out of the collection. The first season includes over one hundred sources from the years 1933 to 1941. It constitutes a polyphonic, multi-perspective collage that is touching and unsettling despite the intentionally restrained presentation. My sense is that this has to do with, among other things, the way the texts are bound to their time. They weren’t written from hindsight, with the knowledge of the dimensions of the Holocaust and the Second World War, but rather document, in chronological order, concrete events and the perspectives of those living at the time. Interviews with the publishers and the radio producers provide a complement, and in addition the sources often open up further with the help of keywords, place names, and specific years. On the whole the project is a very successful example of how to use the available media – books, radio, and website – to offer diverse avenues to this information and a variety of experiences of the material at hand.

Screenshot of the website "memoryloops"In the year 2010 the website memoryloops – “175 Audio Tracks on Sites of NS Terror in Munich, 1933-1945” – was launched, winning in 2012 the Grimme online-Award. This art project by Michaela Melián consists of source texts read aloud and accompanied by music that, interestingly, does not distract the listener, but instead, raises the level of intensity even further. Melián put the material in topographical rather than chronological order – connected with certain places in and around Munich. The website has a virtual city map from which you can choose a soundtrack; the audio files can be downloaded so that you can even follow the “memoryloops” in an actual walk through the city.

Locating is also a keyword for the weekly series “50 Doors to the NS Period” on the blog of the Museum Neukölln (in German). The series introduces the biographies of inhabitants of a large settlement in the south of Berlin before and after 1933. The structure of the settlement’s population changed massively over this time, as left-wing and union-member residents had to leave their homes, while Nazis moved in.

Screenshot of the website "brandenburg-33"The “Brandenburg Coalition for Action Against Violence, Right-wing Extremism, and Xenophobia” is also devoted to local history. On the website (in German) you can find listed a sequence of events from the years 1932 to 1934 that illustrate the process of dismantling democracy in the region. This website relies on its visitors’ engagement and calls on them to enhance the site’s content with their own on-the-ground research. This is occurring with a decided view to current political conflicts, since the Coalition has observed neo-Nazis drawing on local history to promote their ideology. For the Coalition the point – similar to the West-German history workshops of 30 years ago – is to counter this on the spot with another, critical examination of historical events.

Henriette Kolb, Media

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