New website collects testimonies of witnesses of 20th century history

Three major Czech institutions have joined together to launch a unique website called Paměť národa or Memory of the Nation. It will give the public and scholars access to an archive of personal memories of 20th century history, including the horrors of the Holocaust and communist persecution. The materials are gathered by individuals, non-profit organisations and other institutions across Europe and they are accessible to the general public.

The project Memory of the Nation was launched on Tuesday, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of Czechoslovakia. It is a joint project of Czech Radio, the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes and the Post Bellum Association, a group of journalists and historians who have been building a collection of personal testimonies since 2001. Its chairman Mikuláš Kroupa is the initiator of the new website.

“We have been looking for media partners and Czech Radio was very helpful. Since 2006 it has been broadcasting a series of radio documentaries called Příběhy 20. století – stories of the 20th century. This may be one of the reasons why the government, or the European Affairs Information department, has decided to support us. Their grant helped us to make our dream come true, to publish our collection on the internet.”

Post Bellum has also been cooperating with the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, an official body dedicated to examining the country’s communist past; the institute has provided access to its archive and supplemented the individual stories with original documents. Pavel Žáček is its director:

“This project is important for us because we can influence young generation and our partners abroad. It also shows that we are aware of our national history. So far, we are at the beginning. Our archives are more than 20 kilometres long and we still don’t know what is hidden there for example from the 1950s. We are using just a small part of the archive about our totalitarian past.”

So far, the project has been joined by 15 institutions from the Czech Republic and abroad and the website currently contains around 1,000 hours of sound. Mikuláš Kroupa again:

“There are about 800 testimonies on the website, with photos, unedited interviews, diaries and archive materials. The general public can access samples of about 200 interviews and researchers can access everything we have collected over the past eight years. If everything goes according to plan, we would like to interview about 5,000 witnesses by 2011. We hope that a fund on the European level could eventually be established to support national coordinators of this project and further work.”

The website will feature information in eight different languages, with annotations and samples of interviews also available in English.