Reference works and documentations

BKGE | Projects | Contemporary Witness Accounts

Contemporary Witness Accounts of the Culture and History of the Germans in Eastern Europe in the 20th Century

A BKGE project to record, document and edit contemporary witness accounts and testimonies

Within the academic, journalistic and public activity on this topic, an important role has been assigned to the memories and accounts by contemporary witnesses about various aspects of German culture and history in Eastern Europe.

These memories originate from emigrants, for example, who were forced to leave the Reich provinces of Silesia and Eastern Prussia at the time of the Nazi Regime as a result of persecution; or from refugees, displaced persons or expellees who were evacuated from Poland, Hungary, or Czechoslovakia after the end of the war as a result of the Potsdam Treaty; or other accounts include later refugees possibly from Russia or Romania; or the accounts may eben originate from people who stayed in their homeland. Although written from an essentially subjective perspective, these accounts portray long-gone worlds of everyday life and historical events. With the benefit of hindsight, these individuals are often able to look into and evaluate their experiences.

Contemporary witness reports primarily include life-stories, family chronicles, diaries and accounts of fleeing their homeland, as well as notes about journeys and interviews. Although a few larger and more comprehensive collections have preserved these accounts, most of them are to be found in smaller to medium sized collections, whether as a result of systematic collection, from valuable but unsolicited documents, or as the result of research and exhibition projects.

The accounts are preserved and kept in state archives and libraries, in research institutions, cultural foundations, associations or museums. They are accessible to a certain extent and have the potential to be investigated and developed. However, little is known about many of the accounts, and much could be discovered in an exhaustive research project.

The Federal Institute is developing these important resources, and making them more accessible, not only for academic research and teaching, but also for interested members of the public.


This is occuring in three steps:

  1. Inventory of relevant documents and collections of contemporary witness accounts. The directory lists and introduces these documents according to chronological and regional references, both of the documents involved and the topics covered in the accounts.
  2. Commentated edition of exemplary contemporary witness accounts. In collaboration with the Institute for History and Biography at the Open University of Hagen, selected texts from various resource categories, regions and time spans are being reproduced, explained and placed in the relevant historical categories.
    • Publication project (end of 2011) Editionsprojekt
  3. Publication of current research articles. Under this heading you can find academic articles on relevant topics, individual collections and particular issues.



These pages are under construction. Please forward suggestions and additions to:
Dr. Heinke Kalinke

Bundesinstitut für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa
Johann-Justus-Weg 147a | 26127 Oldenburg
Telefon: +49 441 96 19 5-0 | Fax: +49 441 96 19 5-33 | E-Mail: