Online archives chronicle Jewish history, redress injustice

JTA, JDC and Project HEART launch free services.

By JORDANA HORN, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
May 5, 2011 05:53
4 minute read.
Polish woman gives necklace from Shoah victim

project HEART director_311. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

 
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NEW YORK – Three online archives have recently opened, providing widely accessible windows into Jewish history and primary and secondary sources.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency celebrated its new Jewish News Archive (www.archive.jta.org) on Tuesday night at New York’s Center for Jewish History. The Jewish News Archive will provide online access to over a quarter million articles from the JTA dating back to the 1920s; use is free.

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“With free access to nearly a century of reporting about global events affecting world Jewry, the archive will not only serve as a rich resource for both the casually curious as well as students and scholars of modern Jewish history, it will also transform the way the next generation of Jewish leaders and activists learn about their heritage,” the site reads, deeming itself “a comprehensive chronicle of modern Jewish history, as seen through the eyes of journalists.”

“The JTA Jewish News Archive has the potential to spark an interest in the past that will transform the future,” says Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna. Sarna, a member of JTA’s Board of Directors, chaired the project.

Originally named the Jewish Correspondence Bureau, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was the first news agency that not only gathered but also disseminated news in every part of the world.

Also this month, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee will make a collection of its historic records and photographs from the Holocaust period available online. The website – www.jdc.org/sharedlegacy – will allow the public to search through a database of more than half a million names.

The system will also allow people to view and identify photos from 14 countries where JDC operated during and after World War II. JDC client lists from operations in Barcelona, Shanghai, Kobe and Vilna, the JDC Emigration Service in Vienna and Munich, as well as Australia and South America, will be available.

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“I cannot express the profoundly deep connection I felt to my past and now to JDC when out of nowhere my young face popped up on the screen,” Claus Hirsch, a German- born Shanghai Ghetto survivor, told the JDC. Hirsch found a photo of himself in Shanghai on the website.

Hirsch’s family was helped by JDC in China during the war, and he found two lists on which his family members’ names appear. He now lives in Manhattan.

“For six decades, the vast majority of this data has been available only to professional researchers,” JDC CEO Steven Schwager said in a statement.

“Now, thanks to technology, survivors and their descendants can directly engage with our shared history.”

JDC is inviting the public to tag people they know in more than 1,500 photos from Austria, Belgium, China, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain.

“Whether you were a little Jewish child we aided in Barcelona or one of the Jews we supported in Displaced Persons camps after the war, by putting faces, names and stories together, you will benefit generations to come,” Schwager said.

JDC plans to launch its Global Archives website this spring, making available huge collections of newly digitized documents and its significant photo collection from the organization's founding in 1914.

And third, Project HEART (the Holocaust Era Asset Restitution Taskforce) launched a large, publicly available and searchable database (www.heartwebsite.org) of more than 650,000 Holocaust era property records on Wednesday.

The records were compiled and made on the initiative of the Jewish Agency, with support from the Israeli government, to help Jewish families identify personal property confiscated by the Nazis and to help victims seek restitution.

MK Leah Nass, deputy minister for pensioner affairs, said on Wednesday, “We sincerely hope that restituting Holocaust assets will assist survivors that were unable to receive proper redress until today, and allow them to live out their lives with greater peace of mind despite the unspeakable losses they were forced to endure.”

The Project HEART database will be composed of of property addresses, insurance policies, lists of homeowners, professions, lists of known confiscated properties, business directories, and other archival information that can help potential applicants in their research.

HEART’s database will be the international community’s largest single-source database of lost Jewish property assets from the Holocaust era.

“Israel’s very strength and national determination is derived from those who were forced to experience the very worst of humanity,” Project HEART’s Executive Director Bobby Brown said. “It is therefore incumbent upon the Jewish nation to do our utmost to give them some measure of justice which they have been denied for so long.”

“The Holocaust was not only genocide of the Jewish people, but the greatest robbery in history,” Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, said.

“These new technological tools together with the official involvement of the State of Israel in this process give us the hope that this time things will be different. As a former Prisoner of Zion, I remember the difficulty that existed in transferring information in the Soviet Union. In the age of the Internet, Google and Facebook allow us to create magnificent revolutions.

Project HEART’s website has received more than 700,000 hits during its first few weeks.”

Project HEART unveiled a set of archival records on Wednesday in an event attended by leaders of the American Jewish community, including former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger and Jewish community leader James Tisch.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed attendees by video and said, “This is an initiative of great importance and offers us the promise that we can finally achieve the justice so long denied to the victims of the Holocaust and their heirs.”

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