The digital archive was initiated through a cooperative project between the “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft, EVZ) Foundation, Freie Universität Berlin, and the German Historical Museum. It is based on a collection of nearly 600 audio and video interviews with former forced laborers from 26 different countries. The collection includes four and a half hours of reporting from Jutta Pelz-Bergt on her life before, during, and after the Holocaust. She is modest in her assessment of the impact that her contribution, and the archive itself, will have on young people. “The reports may help a bit,” the elderly lady says, “in passing the history down to later generations.”
Miriam Mogge views the matter differently. The 19-year-old Mogge, who has just graduated from Berlin’s Sophie Scholl Secondary School, tested the learning software during the development process and got to know Pelz-Bergt personally along the way. While there is no substitute for personal encounters with people who survived the Holocaust, Mogge says, the interviews themselves are instrumental in giving history a face and removing it from the realm of anonymity: “The archive is about people; it’s not about facts and figures like in a history book. This way, you perceive new information not just with your head, but with your heart as well – and that makes a bigger impression.”
History teacher Bodo Förster has made the same observation: “The impact and authenticity with which the information is presented are impossible to achieve in normal instruction.” Förster, a tenured high school teacher, therefore sees a great need for instructional materials on the topic that include accounts from contemporary witnesses.
This need is precisely what the initiators of the “Forced Labor, 1939–1945” project aim to serve with the online archive, learning software, background films, and accompanying teacher’s guide, says Nicolas Apostolopoulos, head of the Center for Digital Systems at Freie Universität. The archive and the educational materials were developed at the center with support from the EVZ Foundation. Günter Saathoff, a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation, which until 2007 was responsible for paying compensation to former forced laborers, highlights the importance of the project: “Our goal is not only to archive the memories, but also to make them accessible to people.”
There are plans to offer the teaching materials for elementary and secondary schools via the German Federal Agency for Civic Education in the future. The online archive is available on the Internet to registered users and has been used in teaching and research activities at Freie Universität since 2009.