Oral histories put a fresh face on Web photos of European Jewish life.
ESTHER ALLWEISS TSCHIRHART
Special to the Jewish News
a collection of 150 stories (500 more
in process) depicting personal survival,
tragedy and daily life. Users enter
names of families, cities and countries.
Material specific to the Holocaust is
Serotta, an American-born photog-
rapher-writer-filmmaker, has spent the
past 18 years documenting Jewish
communities in Central and Eastern
Europe. His books include Survival in
he tragedies suffered by
European Jews should not
be our only lasting memo-
ries of them, says Edward
Serotta of Vienna, director of
Centropa, a Jewish historical Web site.
During the 20th century, Jews led
diverse lives. They played in jazz
bands, boated on vacation, fre-
quented coffeehouses and wore
silly costumes at Purim parties.
Jews toiled in work brigades and
joined socialist youth groups.
Centropa has the pictures and
stories to prove it.
"They're interested in Jewish
life — not Jewish death," said
Shifra Epstein of Ann Arbor,
who enjoyed Serotta's slide pres-
entation at the May 1 closing
event of the Jewish Federation of
Washtenaw County's Annual
Campaign. More than 100
attended at the Jewish
Community Center in Ann
Arbor, headquarters of the local
Dr. Owen Perlman of Ann
Arbor chairs the campaign that
raised $1.23 million.
Centropa is the signature proj- Ed Serotta
ect of Vienna-based Central
Europe Center for Research and
Sarajevo: How a Jewish Community
Documentation. Its staff seeks to "cre-
Came to the Aid of its City and Out of
ate a window into Jewish history and
the Shadows, set in Budapest.
current events in Central and Eastern
Europe and the former Soviet Union."
Jewish foundations provide some
In 1999, while making a film in Arad,
Visitors to Centropa's interactive
Web site wvvw.centropa.org can access Romania, Serotta wanted to locate
what organizers call the "largest online some vintage photos.
To his surprise, he said, "the presi-
library of privately owned pre- and
dent of the Jewish community had
post-Holocaust photographs and oral
thousands of old photos left to the
histories ever assembled" in the target-
community — just thrown into an
"Witness to a Jewish Century," the
Finding the situation similar in
center's largest project, is an online
other Jewish communities, Serotta was
database searchable by photos and
inspired to preserve the unclaimed
documents or biographies. It includes
photos but in a different way — "to
marry" them with stories.
Serotta is interested in the stories
people tell to explain events pictured
from the past — "and it doesn't have
to be what the person himself has
observed" to be useful. "Oral history
is quite important to fill in the color
of history," he said.
With Centropa, a project launched
last September, Serotta and his staff
are creating a different way of
looking at Jewish life in Central
and Eastern Europe. The Web
site's "Contemporary Jewish Life"
section has a gallery of Serotta's
photographs, searchable by coun-
try and subject matter. The cap-
tioned images show Jews living in
the region today.
Researchers continue to work
with:Jews in Russia, Estonia,
Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania,
Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.
Centropa staffers usually inter-
view Jews encountered at soup
kitchens operated by the Joint
Distribution Committee in major
For the poor and mostly elderly
Jews, "being asked to talk makes
them feel wonderful," Serotta
A first-day interview is followed
by a request for the person to
return with old photographs. He
may say, "I have nothing interesting,"
but going through cherished photos
often triggers storytelling, Serotta said.
For balance, interviewers also seek
out middle-class professionals, such as
retired professors. However, from sad
experience, they steer clear of "the
most-famous Jew in town," who may
try to control the process, Serotta
The Centropa Web site also features
"Ruth Ellen Gruber's Travel Tips" and
"Eating Around Eastern Europe."
Sally Fink of Ann Arbor likes the
project's focus on Jews today, saying:
"It was wonderful looking at Central
Europe and seeing its vibrancy." ❑
From the pages of the Jewish News
from this week 10, 20, 30, 40, 50
and 60 years ago.
Israel Ambassador to the United
Nations Gad Yaacobi will be the
main speaker at the Yom
Ha Zikaron (Israel Remembrance
Day) this week at the Jewish
Community Center in West
One of the world's foremost design-
ers of major museums and exhibits,
John Gardner of London, England,
is commissioned to design the inte-
rior of metro Detroit's Holocaust
Hy Bergman, executive director of
the Flint Jewish Community
Council since 1968, will leave his
post to become the executive direc-
tor of an as-yet-to-be-formed com-
munity council in Las Vegas.
The National Federation of Jewish
Men's Clubs awards a plaque to the
Beth Aaron Men's Club for "Best
All Around Program" and to the •
Shaarey Zedek Men's Club for "Best
Program of the Year" at its 34th
annual convention at the Concord
Hotel, Kiamesha Lake, N.Y.
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Professor Benjam i n Alai n , dean
faculty of law of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem, will lecture
at the University of Michigan in
Ann Arbor this summer on the
political framework of Israel.
Abraham Srere is re-elected presi-
dent of the Jewish Welfare
Federation of Detroit by the board
The foundation is laid in Detroit
for the opening of a Beth Jacob
School for Girls (6-12 years old),
sponsored by the Ladies of
Yeshivath Beth Yehudah.
— Compiled by Holly Teasdle,
archivist, the Rabbi Leo M Franklin
Archives of Temple Beth El