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Crowdfunding Project Aims to Put 200 Holocaust Diaries Online

Eyewitness accounts bring the brutal chapter in history to life

This diary was kept by a French man who escaped Paris with his family during the Holocaust. (USHMM/Kickstarter)
smithsonian.com

From Anne Frank’s years in hiding to Miriam Wattenberg’s eyewitness account of life in the Warsaw ghetto, Holocaust diaries provide a glimpse into daily life during a genocide. But the diaries that survived are few and far between—and many of those first-person accounts are locked away in archives.

Now, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is trying to change that. The museum has launched a Kickstarter in search of $250,000 to fund the costly and time-consuming task of digitizing, preserving, and translating hundreds of precious accounts of the Holocaust.

The initiative is called “Save Their Stories: The Undiscovered Diaries of the Holocaust,” and it will enable the museum to make over 200 diaries of the Holocaust public for the first time. The powerful diaries span 17 languages and tell stories of authors from different ages, walks of life, and locations. From the diary of Joseph Strip, who wrote his diary in his math notebook, to Hans Vogel, who documented his flight from Paris with hand-drawn maps, the collection contains harrowing evidence of life under extraordinary circumstances that need to be translated, transcribed, and digitized before they’re released to the public.

The museum hopes that evidence will do more than educate the public. “Making the evidence of the Holocaust widely available is critical to promoting its understanding and countering those who would deny it,” says Dana Weinstein, director of membership and new audience engagement, in a press release.

That denial still plagues the Holocaust, despite extensive documentation and over seven decades of painstaking academic research. The Holocaust’s most famous diary—written by a teenaged Anne Frank from 1942 to 1944—has withstood years of vicious scrutiny.

Though high-profile deniers have questioned everything from the ink with which it was written to its authorship, the diary has been repeatedly authenticated. In the late 1980s, the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation published a critical edition of the diary that includes the results of an exhaustive forensic investigation into every aspect of the book. Its conclusion? The book—like the Holocaust—is authentic.

There have been other attempts to fight Holocaust denial. Earlier this year, Google began to use a large group of independent contractors to flag offensive content, including Holocaust denial sites that were highly ranked on the search engine, after growing criticism about its ranking practices. And the website Holocaust Denial on Trial offers an extensive collection of scholarly materials that refute myths about the murder of European Jews.

“Holocaust denial and distortion are forms of anti-Semitism,” writes the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on its website. “The denial or distortion of history is an assault on truth and understanding.” Perhaps with the addition of over 200 diaries to the public record, it will become even easier to tell that truth to future generations.

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