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Archive of Austrian resistance gets a new boss with fresh ideas

By Maddy French

The new head of an Austrian archive that documented the resistance and persecution of people in the Second World War is hoping to bring the unique historical collection into the 21st Century.

The Documents Archive of Austrian Resistance (DÖW) started life as a small library in the years immediately following the Second World War that was looked after by a group of survivors and refugees. They used it as a way of tracking family and friends who had been displaced or with whom contact was lost during the war, but over the next six decades it would also play a pivotal role in ensuring the experience of people living in Austria in the war was not forgotten.

Today, many generations after the war ended in 1945, Austrian university professors and students are happy to explore in depth the role played by their country in the Second World War. But in the decades immediately following the conflict, interest in reflecting back on Austria's role had been limited - in part due to the fact that many people who had been involved in the war returned to their posts as teachers and researchers, in universities and in public bodies afterwards.

During that period, the archive built up the collection, being one of the few organisations to carry out interviews with survivors - something that was nearly unheard at that time. In the late 1960s the archive received public funding and over the years became the main force behind re-evaluating what happened in Austria under the Nazis in terms of persecution and resistance, shocking the country when they published reports detailing some of the atrocities and crimes that had been committed.

Thousands of pictures and documents later, and after fundamental shifts in Austria's engagement with it's past that occurred in the nineties with the restitution of artworks, the unique archive continues to be valuable source for countless researchers - but with historian Dr. Gerhard Baumgartner soon to take the helm, the organisation is entering a new era.

"It's an extraordinary archive with some good people working there. But hardly anybody knows a lot about it and it should be out more," says Baumgartner, who will be taking over as head of the DÖW in May this year. An historian who has done much work on Roma genocide and a former broadcast journalist, Baumgartner, 56, recognises that the archive is full of material that could be presented to public in an interesting and engaging way, bringing alive the history of the country during the war and increasing public awareness of the work done by DÖW.

He likens his aspirations for the archive to efforts in Berlin to present the city's rich history using apps that can be used on self-guided tours around the German capital, taking visitors to some of the key historical buildings and areas whilst listening to interviews and historical sources.

"There is all the material to do that here but very little happens with it," says Baumgartner, who is also keen to get the archive brought up to date digitally. "Like it or not, social media is playing a very important role and you have to take it into account."

A historian who has worked on government historical commissions and currently a lecturer at Graz university, Baumgartner thinks it the fact that he is partly an outsider to the DÖW that helped him get this position.

"I did not grow up in this institution and I think there was a feeling that change was needed," he explains. "It's very difficult to change something if you have been part of is for many years. I don't know if I have the authority to do that but I certainly have some new ideas. We will see what I can do."

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