The Library of Rescued Memory

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Centropa (internet name for Central Europe Center for Research and Documentation) is a Vienna and Budapest-based non-profit NGO that uses advanced technologies to preserve Jewish memory in Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Balkans and the Baltics, and then uses those same technologies to disseminate this findings in creative and innovative ways.  It combines oral history with family snapshots and Jewish community photo albums, and unearths invaluable records of once-thriving Jewish communities. The archive’s main source of information and photographs are elderly Jews who won’t likely be around much longer to tell their tale

Since 2000, Centropa has interviewed more than 1,250 elderly Jews still living in the 15 countries between the Baltic and the Aegean (from Estonia and Russia to Greece and Turkey). They never used video nor did they focus primarily on the Holocaust. Instead, Centropa collected and digitized thousands of family photos. Interviewers spent up to twenty hours with each respondent, asking them to paint a picture of the world they grew up in – as well as the world they rebuilt for their families after the war. Centropa also dutifully record everything their respondents wish to share with others about the Shoah.

The interviews are audio taped, transcribed, translated and entered into our searchable, keyworded online database ‘Jewish Witness to a European Century’. Most stories are in English, and there are separate websites and search facilities in German (for Vienna-based interviews) and in Hungarian.

Centropa is leading by Edward Serotta – a journalist, photographer and filmmaker specializing in Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe. An American born in Savannah, Georgia, Edward Serotta has worked in Central Europe since 1985. His three books are:  Out of the Shadows,  Survival in Sarajevo and  Jews, Germany, Memory.  Between 1996 and 1999, he produced three films for ABC News Nightline.  As a writer,  Edward Serotta has contributed to Time Magazine, The L.A.Times, The Washington Post, and other outlets.

Stories and family pictures from the archive of  Centropa can be seen of the center’s website. The Web site also includes photographs by Edward Serotta and travel tips by Ruth Ellen Gruber (a U.S.-born writer who has written several books about Jewish life in Eastern Europe), as well as interactive book reviews and reports about contemporary Jewish life in the region.

I wanted to expand the borders of what I was doing” – books, articles and the occasional documentary for ABC’s “Nightline” – “by combining new technologies and the efforts of different journalists,” Serotta said in interview for The Jewish Week. He wanted “a project that will be seen by more people than will read a book.”

More than 40 short biographical films, created by Centropa, each based on interviews and family pictures are also available now on Youtube and as a free podcast on  iTunes (tap here to subscribe and to see podcasts on your iPhone/iPad).


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