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Centropa is a non-profit, Jewish historical institute dedicated to preserving 20th century Jewish family stories and photos from Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and disseminating these stories and photos through films, books and exhibitions - which we use also use for our various education programs.
Our main office is in Vienna. We also have offices in Budapest, Hamburg and Washington DC.
When we began our interview program 20 years ago - in the year 2000 - , the goal was to seek out a thousand elderly Jews still living between the Baltic and the Aegean Seas and ask them to tell us stories about the entire twentieth century, just as they lived it.
We never used video in those interviews, which often lasted between four to six hours, nor did we focus primarily on the Holocaust. That’s because the people we met were the last time-witnesses to a world that no longer exists: the Jewish world of yesterday. Ten years from now, a hundred years from now, the Centropa archive will make for even more compelling reading. In these stories, we have opened a window onto that vanished world, and in the following pages you will meet the man who saved the life of a frightened little girl in wartime Vienna, visit a small market town in western Romania to admire an oversized ox, and sit under a shade tree in the Turkish town of Bursa.
By the end of 2009, we had sat on 1,260 sofas or at dining room tables, held up 25,281 old photographs and documents, and asked our respondents, “Who are we looking at here?” And “What’s the story behind this ID card?” Those were the questions that, every single time, would elicit either a smile or a grimace. Stories would follow, sometimes slowly, hesitantly; at other times, with a great gush of emotion.
Twenty years before we sat down with our first interviewee, Susana Hacker in Novi Sad, Serbia, in early 2000, there was no technology to carry out such a program. Twenty years later, meaning today, it is too late to begin now. Susana sent us to interview three of her friends, and afterwards she told us, “You know, you are the fourth group who has come to our community. But you are the first people to ask us how we lived, not just how we died.”