New: EHRI Online Editions

EHRI Online Editions
Tuesday, 4 June, 2019

First Online Edition: BeGrenzte Flucht

A key goal of the EHRI Work Package 'New Views on Digital Archives' was to develop annotated online editions of documents as a new way of presenting digital archival content. The editions are empowered by new EHRI tools for digital editing and use and improve upon the EHRI vocabularies and descriptions to generate contextual information displayed to users. The annotated online editions link to EHRI Country Reports; information about collection holding institutions and collection-level descriptions in the EHRI Portal.

Compared to analogue editions, the freely accessible online editions enable new research approaches and a different reading of the documents. Through metadata-tagging and geo-referencing, the editions do not exclusively follow thematic or chronological patterns; they are searchable and filtered for specific thematic or spatial interests at any time and are contextualised through interactive maps.

A first EHRI online edition on Austrian refugees in Czechoslovakia in 1938 was published in 2018. EHRI is currently working on a further edition on Early Holocaust testimonies, bringing together archival material from the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, The Wiener Library, the Hungarian Jewish Archives and Yad Vashem, as well as some early Yiddish testimonies. Another online edition is in development by the IfZ Munich, focusing on Diplomatic Reports from World War II.

BeGrenzte Flucht

The first EHRI Online Edition, “BeGrenzte Flucht. Die österreichischen Flüchtlinge an der Grenze zur Tschechoslowakei im Krisenjahr 1938” (Bordered Escape. Austrian refugees at the Czechoslovak border during the crisis year 1938) was published in June 2018.[1] It makes available a set of more than 100 documents related to the fate and experience of Austrian refugees who attempted to escape to Czechoslovakia after the “Anschluss” (annexation) of Austria to Nazi Germany in March 1938. This edition documents the persecution and expulsion of mostly Jewish Austrians and the restrictive Czechoslovak refugee policy which reacted bysealing the borders. This edition not only fills a gap in the documentation of the flight and exile of Austrians after the “Anschluss”, but also broadens the research on refugees and state refugee policies during the Holocaust.

Screenshot from „BeGenzte Flucht“: The Burgenland Jews on the Danube tug-boat. An eyewitness report

This edition is the result of extensive archival research by the editors Michal Frankl and Wolfgang Schellenbacher and for the first time brings together disparate archival documents from several countries including the Czech Republic, Austria, the UK, and the US. The online edition is therefore in line with EHRI’s main goals of overcoming the fragmentation of Holocaust documentation. This thematically defined research edition also weaves together different types of documents and contains introductions detailing its methodology and an overview on the history of Austrian Jewish refugees in Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939.

EHRI used the preparation of this edition to develop and test new tools and the frontend platform for digital editions based on Omeka.

Technical implementation

Documents published in the EHRI Digital Editions are encoded in the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) P5 standard – a widely adopted and standard format for digital editions of all kinds. While TEI is multi-layered and can be very complex, a huge variety of information and linking in the documents can easily be edited for users.

TEI of the protocol with Felix Stiastny on crossing the border into Czechoslovakia illegally

Despite numerous existing approaches to the publication of TEI documents online, no available solution fitted the requirements of EHRI Editions. The team therefore opted to develop its own set of tools and a front-end platform based on a simple but powerful existing open source software, Omeka, and its Neatline mapping plugin. This set of software tools is modular and can be combined or extended in different ways to fit the needs of specific editions. The requirements for the EHRI Editions software followed the real-world editorial process, beginning once the relevant documents has been selected, transcribed and translated.

EHRI Editions put emphasis on following the linked data paradigm, using links to established controlled vocabularies (EHRI for Holocaust-related entities; Geonames for geographic information, etc.). The annotation of documents, therefore, consists primarily of tagging and linking words or expressions in the documents. The annotation was done in common text editors where the entities were linked using URLs. Once the annotating and text editing was finalised, the documents were converted to the TEI XML format. The team used an open source tool called Odette for this purpose and extended its stylesheet to recognise the types of entities and encode them accordingly based on the URLs used as references. The TEI files produced in this way were checked by editors and cleansed of any unwanted formatting. An EHRI-TEI-enrichment utility created normalised entries for linked entities in the TEI header (using the EHRI API, Geonames metadata and other resources) and which were later used to drive the faceted browse and map visualisations.

The resulting TEI documents are then uploaded to the Omeka web publication platform and the EHRI Editions plugin automatically populated the database based on the content of the XML file. Interactive map presentations were created based on the TEI data.

As well as the three EHRI Online Editions produced this way, the EHRI Edition tools and the platform are intended to support and possibly host third-party projects in the future: an Edition on transports to Nisko by the Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance is already being planned. EHRI is happy to support and consult on ideas for projects and further editions.


Read another article about the Edtions here (in Slovak).

[1] The preparation of the content of the edition was externally funded through a grant by the Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich (Future Fund of the Republic Austria).