Centropa was founded in 2000 with two goals in mind: to use the newest technologies to preserve Jewish memory in the lands where Jewish life had been all but wiped out, then to disseminate our findings to the largest possible audience.
Although we interviewed 1,263 elderly Jews still living in fifteen European countries, we never used video in those interviews. We wanted to sit with our respondents in their homes, point to their family pictures dating from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, and ask: Who is in this picture? What can you tell me about them?
We were searching for Jewish memory—as told by those who lived through everything a horrid century could throw at them. Between 2000 and 2009, one hundred forty people worked for us as interviewers, editors, historians, coordinators, scanners, and transcribers. And what we secured is unlike any other archive of Jewish memory, anywhere—a total of 23,000 digitized, annotated photographs and documents that are available at the click of a mouse, the swipe of a finger.
Back in 2000, our goal was that in a few years we would close up shop and move on to other projects. But with two articles about us in The New York Times, along with two National Public Radio pieces, and articles in The Times of London, The Guardian, Ha’aretz, Die Zeit, and Der Standard, teachers were writing to us in ever greater numbers, offering to help turn our stories into education programs.
We were glad to have their help, and working alongside teachers has been our leitmotif ever since. We never hand them a boxed curriculum because we quickly realized that they know what will work with their students better than anyone.
2023 marks our eighteenth year in education, and with the inclusion of Moldova and Ukraine we now have well more than five hundred schools in our network. Ninety percent of them are public schools and our report will tell you about our progress in places as diverse as inner city Newark, farm towns in Serbia, and the heart of Tel Aviv.
Because Centropa has, literally, digitized memory, we have been able to adapt to new media in ways we could not have dreamed of in 2000. Since then, the world of social media and new technology has changed radically, but one thing has not: for as long as humans could communicate, we have been addicted to stories. The magic in Centropa is that we combine the annotated pictures we’ve collected with both old and new technologies to create traveling exhibitions, walking tour apps, multimedia films, printed catalogues, eBooks and—most recently—podcasts.