In the summer of 2005, as I was hiking along former partisan trails through the Apennines, near Reggio Emilia in Italy, I came across a whole host of people who had fought as partisans against the Italian Fascists and the German Nazi occupation. They told me all about partisan operations and skirmishes, and the retaliatory strikes by the Nazis and Fascists. One of these partisans was Giacomo Notari, code name “Willi.” In the small town of Bettola, where on June 24, 1944 German soldiers massacred 32 civilians, he told me:
“[The Germans] had murdered a lot of people here… old people and children too. It was here that they mocked the dead, later killing the children as well, and we became convinced there and then that these people needed to be got rid of. A significant number of us decided to take up arms and join the partisans.”
As he spoke these words, I recognised in this 78-year-old the same determination and courage that he must have had as a young man.
In moments such as these it becomes clear that contemporary eyewitnesses are, and will remain, indispensable as the living transmitters of history – of this I am sure. I still vividly remember my guided tour around the grounds of the former concentration camp at Buchenwald with resistance fighter Emil Carlebach, and my conversation with former Edelweiss Pirates about their direct actions against Hitler Youth; these were formative experiences for me.
Unfortunately, the majority of contemporary witnesses have already died, and in a few years there will be no one remaining who can directly remember that time. And this is precisely why projects that allow us to experience these testimonies – even after the deaths of those who provided them – are so important. The European Resistance Archive (ERA) is one of those projects.
Before coming to Babbel, I worked at a small internet agency in Kreuzberg where I was involved in setting up the European Resistance Archive (ERA). The ERA’s goal is to preserve the stories and memories of those people who resisted the Nazi and fascist terror, and to make these freely available to everyone online.
At the heart of this online archive is a collection of 21 video interviews with contemporary eyewitnesses from Poland, France, Slovenia, Italy, Austria and Germany. In addition, the archive provides an overview of each of these countries’ respective resistance movements, so as to better set the interviews in their proper historical context.
Last year, I decided to take a three-month sabbatical – something all Babbel employees are entitled to – and to use this time off to revise the European Resistance Archive. At the time it had already been online for over nine years, before even the existence of iPhones. This on its own was more than sufficient justification for an overhaul. Much of it was technically outdated and none of the video clips could be played on mobile phones.
The aim was to eliminate these technical issues, to modernise the design, and to adapt the display for different screen sizes – from smartphones and tablets, to the largest TV screens.
After I returned to Babbel at the end of my sabbatical, many of my colleagues asked about the project, and I decided there and then to present about the ERA during one of our regular Babbel “brown-bag sessions.”
The feedback was overwhelming, and a lot of people spontaneously came forward to offer their support and cooperation to the project. Since the ERA has still only been fully translated into English, and the rest of the content is only partly available in other languages, and given that there are so many language experts, teachers and translators at Babbel, it seemed only natural for us to tackle the remaining translations together.
To this end we organised two ERA translation workshops at Babbel for those interested in volunteering. In the meantime, the first subtitles have been translated into Italian and German, but there’s still a long way to go. Anyone keen to join in, either as a translator or as a proofreader, is more than welcome to participate. The main point of access is the ERA Translations Project on Github, and further details can be found in the project’s accompanying wiki. We would also welcome the addition of more relevant interviews with Partisans, should anyone happen to have recorded one.
I am very grateful for the wonderful support and commitment from my colleagues at Babbel. It’s really incredible to see what happens when people with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds in addition to technical fields of expertise work together and support each other above and beyond their daily work routines.