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For the 80th anniversary of the terrifying events of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) worked with C&G Partners to develop “1938 Projekt: Posts from the Past” (www.1938projekt.org), a captivating year-long website, social media, and exhibition program that presents real archival documents daily — from 80 years in the past. Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass”, on November 9-10, 1938, was a widespread attack or “pogrom” carried out against Jews. It took the form of beatings, destruction of shops, burning of synagogues, forced incarceration, and murder, and affected tens of thousands of innocent Jewish citizens. This shocking event is viewed by many as the beginning of the Holocaust. Eighty years later, “1938 Projekt” tells the story of how German-speaking Jews perceived the progressing situation of the year leading to Kristallnacht, using daily posts of real archival documents from the same dates in 1938 to create a growing online calendar in real time. The “projekt” also includes companion exhibitions and programs in the US and Germany.
“1938 Projekt” focuses on individual stories by presenting documents from LBI’s own archives and those of numerous partner institutions. Every day in 2018, a new document — a handwritten letter, a diary entry, a photo — is posted to the website and social media channels, reflecting the experiences and intimate impressions of its former owners as they grappled at the time with the loss of their rights, livelihoods, homes and personal safety. The documents are gripping to read today, since they portray daily life in the buildup to what we now know will be the coming violence of Kristallnacht, after which all hope was lost.
The project’s graphic design reflects the modernist, Bauhaus style of the late 1930s. In the visual identity, the numeral 8 in the year and letter O in “Projekt” are aligned and highlighted with a vertical red gesture, to commemorate 80 years since 1938. The website closely resembles an old-fashioned daily calendar, which was the organizing principle of this project. The design approach, with strong, easily recognizable branding across all channels, conveys the story of 1938 by "dating" each document in chronological order as it is posted. The strength of the project is in how the calendar concept draws the public in by building suspense in small daily doses. The daily drip of documents provides an eerie build-up, drawing in readers and sustaining their interest in a way that’s similar to that of reading a Holocaust-era diary today.
The website is one component in an integrated campaign consisting of social media posts, an email campaign and both a semi-permanent and a traveling exhibit with website content integrated as a kiosk in the exhibition space. The project combines captivating content, multiplicity of user paths and powerful unifying branding to provide a suspenseful build-up to the story’s inevitable catastrophic conclusion of Kristallnacht. The project has been well received by the public, and made LBI’s archive accessible to fresh audiences. The project was covered extensively in the design press in outlets including Communication Arts and The Drum.