Centropa: The Story of Europe's Jewish Heritage

Researchers Gather Stories, Photos for Centropa Project

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Jewish wedding in Riga, Latvia, 1958.

Detail from photo of a Jewish wedding in Riga, Latvia, 1958. Centropa Organization hide caption

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Before World War II, 15 million Jews lived in Eastern Europe. Most of their stories were lost through war and migration. But now, a group of researchers from many nations is compiling the largest regional online archive of Jewish life, past and present.

NPR's Guy Raz recently visited the Vienna, Austria headquarters of the Centropa project, where the photos and personal accounts of Jews still living in Europe are put into an electronic archive.

Researchers from cities in Vienna, Moscow, Belgrade, Riga and regions all over Eastern and Central Europe search for a new story to add to the archive. They are finding elderly Jews, and chronicling their lives — not as victims of the Holocaust, but how they lived. The researchers ask about their rituals, jobs, family life, marraige and the everyday things that took place in Jewish neighborhoods.

Under the guidance of renowned photographer Edward Serotta, the Centropa Organization’s "Witness to a Jewish Century" project will eventually include an online, searchable database of more than 70,000 photos and personal accounts of life in the old country. Currently, vistors to the site can search names, places, years — even professions.

"It's not a Holocaust project," Serotta says. "It's about normal life — the person who was the local scoundrel, the beauty that all the young men wanted to marry.

"There is real history in between the lines," he says. "There is real history in between the great events, and these people who have been deprived of even speaking about these things are the ones who are clogging the doorways of our offices."

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