This month the Library concludes its Arts Council England-funded project aimed at improving access to our Family Papers collections, via a generous grant from the Designated Development Fund awarded in early 2020. Though the project may have finished, we at the Library are excited to continue to build and improve upon its foundation, and continue to catalogue, digitise and promote our invaluable Family Papers collections.
The Wiener Holocaust Library is the UK’s largest archive of personal papers related to Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe. We hold over 700 family papers collections, most of which are related to the experiences of Jewish refugee families who came to Britain in the 1930s and 1940s. The collection includes a large amount of original materials, including diaries, Red Cross letters, photo albums, identity and emigration papers, and recorded interviews. We are still actively building our collection of Family Papers, and our ever-busy Senior Archivist typically accepts around fifty donations per year. Despite the importance of these unique holdings, however, our refugee family papers are too often overlooked.
Funding from Arts Council England gave the Library the chance to expand our physical and digital archive, create a new digital resource, and to spread access and awareness of our Family Papers collections through virtual and in-person events, exhibitions, and workshops and training. Three exceptionally rich and extensive family papers collections—the Gordon, Rosenberg, Levy Family Papers—have been catalogued and externally digitised, totalling over 55,000 images of documents and photographs. These can be currently accessed at the Library through a computer terminal, and a selection of the materials are also on our Refugee Map. Library staff additionally digitised more than 120 Family Papers collections, totalling over 32,500 images. The long-term goal, through our larger Digital Transformation Project, is to feature all these digitised collection on our future online library.
In November 2021, the Library launched its Refugee Map, a new resource and website that built upon our previous Interactive Map webpage (2015-2020). A detailed look at the old page as well as the process behind the new site can be read here. In the first months, visitor numbers to the new resource have already greatly exceeded that of the old map’s total audience over four years. The map contains over 100 collections from our archive, and we will continue to add collections and donations to the site.
Exhibitions have included an exhibition of highlights from the Family Papers collection in our Reading Room as well as a new travelling exhibition, Mapping Memories, which is available to hire for schools, organisations and institutions to educate and inform their own audiences regardless of space and budget. In the autumn, inspired by our Refugee Family Papers project, an exhibition in our main gallery will feature photographs from our Family Papers collections, focusing on portraiture and snapshots from the early twentieth century.
We have held a number of events focused on refugee experiences in Britain and elsewhere, including a lecture by Dr Rachel Pistol on the subject of the trajectories and experiences of Jewish refugees to the UK during the Second World War, a talk by Dr Becky Taylor from her recent book Refugees in Twentieth-Century Britain, a virtual book launch of Living in Two Worlds: The Else Behrend and Siegfried Rosenfeld Diaries, and a presentation from Dr Bea Lewkowicz and Daisy Abboudi about the Sephardi Voices UK Archive.
Library staff were given training on the experience of Jewish refugees in Britain as well as on digital practices as part of the project. A team of volunteers, who received in-house archival and conservation training, were key to the success of this project. Their help has been invaluable in processing and preparing Family Papers collections for cataloguing and digitisation, as well as in translating documents from German, Dutch, Hebrew, and other languages, into English.
Finally, we held a very successful one-day virtual workshop, Mapping Migration and the Challenges of Digital Curation on 20 June to examine themes related to the challenges of transnational digital curation and the sustainability of digital humanities resources in a new digital age for archives and heritage collections.
I initially joined the team at the Library in 2020 as the Project Officer for this grant, and it has been an immense privilege to coordinate these efforts and myriad activities. As the Library continues to invest in, build, improve, and share our Family Papers collections, we hope to further enrich this incredible archive with new research and projects in the future.