Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - BIM

Archive of Refuge

Duration: 2018 - 2021; Department: Integration, Social Networks and Cultural Lifestyles


What forms of remembrance are needed in today's societies shaped by migration? The oral history project concerns itself with the memories of people migrating to Germany as an integral part of German post-war history, seeking to protect them from being forgotten and suppressed. A digital archive brings together 41 documentary film interviews with people who immigrated to the Federal Republic or the GDR in the last 70 years.


The Archive of Refuge is a digital memory site that preserves and reflects on stories of flight and forced migration to Germany in the 20th and 21st centuries. The experiences of people who left everything behind and found refuge here have shaped the two German states - and their relationship to each other - from the beginning. These people tell stories of escape and expulsion, of torture, exploitation and deprivation of rights, but also of hope and happiness. They talk about home and exile, belonging and new beginnings - and in the end they also reveal surprising, diverse perspectives of German history.

Their stories show that flight and migration to Germany are not exceptions or crisis-like anomalies, but historically constitute the norm. Only with and through these stories can we succeed in understanding the present and the future. What similarities and/or differences are reflected in the experiences of fleeing? How do migration experiences change over decades? Which desires and ambitions, but also which traumas did people come here with? Which experiences of arrival and exclusion are repeated? How are the social, political or cultural thresholds of belonging negotiated or changed? What do they tell us about this very place? What does it actually mean: fleeing?

In its creation, the Archive of Refuge took its time: Workshops with an interdisciplinary team of interviewers and advisors were organised over a year and a half in order to reflect on the following questions: What concept of refuge is the archive based on? What time span should it cover? How can the experience of the hearings by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees be prevented from being repeated? What themes and motives should guide all interviews? How open and free do the interviewers have to be? How do we ensure that the depth of the narratives and the breadth of perspectives and backgrounds complement each other?

Together we developed a guideline for the interviews: The conversations begin with childhood experiences and end in the present; in between are the decision to flee, the sometimes swift, sometimes confusing transit, and finally the arrival and life in Germany - whether only recently or for decades.

The interviewers come from very different academic disciplines and cultural backgrounds. They bring different experiences and forms of knowledge, but also a broad spectrum in age, migration experience and origin. They are Jewish, Muslim or atheist, homosexual and heterosexual, white or interviewers of colour who have embarked on this multi-year project together.

It was only after this intensive preparatory work that the project reached out to various communities, associations and aid organisations. In the search for people who would participate, the selection of interlocutors should not repeat the usual mechanisms of exclusion and discrimination. We looked very specifically for experiences and countries of origin: Women, less well educated people and elderly people should be visible with their narratives as well as young, professional men.

While we have tried to ensure a breadth of narratives and experiences, we are aware of the incompleteness of the project. An archive always speaks of the fact that it can and should be supplemented and updated. The final selection does not claim to be representative.

The Archive of Refuge explicitly brings together the memories of different generations - from the flight in 1945 from Silesia to the flight in 2016 from Libya. It contains a broad spectrum of stories, whether young or older narrators, mothers or daughters who had to leave everything behind. In total, the archive brings together protagonists from 27 countries of origin in South America, Africa, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Middle East, South-East Asia and East Asia, who tell their stories in nine languages. The stories cover a wide range of social and cultural backgrounds, religions and sexualities. Of the 18 women and 23 men, four classify themselves as LGBTQIA+.

They are shepherds or professors, workers or members of the upper class. At the time of the recordings, the interviewees were between 19 and 87 years old.

Together with filmmaker Heidi Specogna, a cinematic concept was developed that shows respect for the people who entrust their stories to the archive and thus to the public. All interviews are available online.

The film interviews will be made permanently accessible to the public in German and English and will not only be usable for political education and migration research. With the publication of the digital archive on 30 September, they can be seen in an installation at the HKW until the beginning of January 2022 and will be presented simultaneously at the Goethe-Institutes in Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Tirana and Zagreb. During the duration of the installation at the HKW, workshops with pupils and teachers will initiate political education projects. Experts in political education as well as practitioners and theoreticians from the museum and academic contexts will discuss the use and dissemination of the digital archive in their respective fields with Silvy Chakkalakal (Humboldt University) and Yasemin Karakaşoğlu (University of Bremen). Four thematic days will open the Archive of Refuge at the HKW as a contribution to the politics of memory in current discourses on immigration. Here, theorists, activists and project participants will discuss the necessities of a pluralistic understanding of society in the face of current political conjunctures.



Manuela Bojadžijev and Carolin Emcke jointly curated Archive of Refuge (2021). Archive of Refuge is a project of Haus der Kulturen der Welt. The online archive and the production of the film interviews are funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. The Archive of Refuge is presented from October 2021 to January 2022 in cooperation with the Goethe-Institutes and their partners in Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Tirana and Zagreb. The digital educational program for the Archive of Refuge was created in cooperation with mediale pfade - Verein für Medienbildung e.V., funded by Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (bpb). The Archive of Refuge is also being developed in libraries, library catalogues and databases in cooperation with the German Library Association (dbv), the Special Subject Collection Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University Library of the Humboldt University of Berlin and the Data Service Centre Qualiservice of the University of Bremen as well as the Tempelhof-Schöneberg and Pankow public libraries. 



The Archive of Refuge was also accompanied by a student project seminar of the same name in the summer semester of 2021, in which Antonia Welch Guerra worked as a tutor.

Media partners are taz, Tageszeitung, and the weekly newspaper der Freitag.

The Archive of Refuge is under the patronage of Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The archive has also been developed in cooperation with the following people:

Artistic director was Bernd Scherer

Outreach, scientific-curatorial collaboration: Mohammad A. S. Sarhangi

Project management, production management: Nadja Hermann

Project management until 2019: Cordula Hamschmidt, Annette Bhagwati

Film dramaturgical advice: Heidi Specogna

Foreign language advice: Lilian-Astrid Geese

Organisational advice: Andrea Rostásy

Legal advice: Inken Stern

Medical-psychological advice: Malek Bajbouj

Scientific advice/project partner: Stefanie Schüler-Springorum

Visual Consultancy: Johann Feindt

Website consultation: Karen Khurana

Interviewers: Mohamed Amjahid, Gabriele von Arnim, Manuela Bojadžijev, Carolin Emcke, Eva Gilmer, Charlene Lynch, Ethel Matala de Mazza, Mohammad A. S. Sarhangi, Amir Theilhaber, Joseph Vogl

Protagonists: Éva Ádám, Fatuma Musa Afrah, Ibraimo Alberto, Mouna Aleek, Kerim Borovina, Bino Byansi Byakuleka, Dao Quang Vinh, Samra Habta, Freweyni Habtemariam, Ranjith Henayaka-Lochbihler, Ahmad Hussainy, Muhammed Lamin Jadama, Zeynep Kıvılcım, Levent Konca, Yiwu Liao, Gudrun Lintzel, Eric Mbiakeu, Blaise Baneh Mbuh, Yasmin Merei, Mira, Mila Mossafer, Lucía Muriel, Abdulkadir Musa, Nelly Neufeld, Hamid Nowzari, Saloua Nyazy, Stephen Okumu, Saideh Saadat-Lendle, Nadja Salzmann, Sasha Marianna Salzmann, Kava Spartak, Remzija Suljić, Bashar Taha, Viktor, Bruno Watara, Regina Webert-Lehmann, Max Welch Guerra, Moro Yapha, Hayyan Al Yousouf, Fatima Youssouf

Cinematography: Jule Katinka Cramer, Katharina Diessner, Thomas Keller, Anne Misselwitz, Luise Schröder, Carmen Treichl

Original sound: Manja Ebert, Joscha Eickel, Adel Gamehdar, Matthias Hartenberger, Florian Hoffmann, Anastasios Papiomytoglou

Studio set-up, lighting, sound: Stephan Barthel, Benjamin Brandt, buk filmbau, Jason Dorn, Simon Franzkowiak, Martin Gehrmann, Bastian Heide, Matthias Henkel, Kujawa Raumdesign, Leonardo Rende, Andrew Schmidt, Stefan Seitz, Klaus Tabert

Editing: Petja von Bredow, Wiebke Hofmann

Postproduction: Concept AV - Stefan Engelkamp, Stefan Gohlke

Mixing: Jonathan Schorr

Rental lighting: a prima vista

Rental sound equipment: Kortwich Filmtontechnik

Interpreter coordination: Lilian-Astrid Geese

Simultaneous interpreters: Ahmed Mahadi, Lilian-Astrid Geese, Freweyni Habtemariam, Jing Möll, Duc Thang Nguyen, Günther Orth, Christoph Rolle, Mercede Salehpour, Alexander Schmitt

Transcription and translation: Elif Amberg, Joni Barnard, Anna Bartholdy, Ulrike Bernard, Jennifer Brandt, Madeleine Dallmeyer, Julie Dorstewitz, Helen Ferguson, Lilian-Astrid Geese, Cornelia Herfurtner, Simone Hess, Kerstin Krolak, Elisa Purfürst, Lena Scheidgen, Colin Shepherd, Sebastian Weitemeier, Martina Würzburg

Sequencing: Shohreh Shakoory

Recording Studio - Voice Over: Matthias Hartenberger, Anastasios Papiomytoglou

Audio editing - Voice Over: Jozefina Chetko

Mixing - Voice Over: Jonathan Schorr

Interpreters - Voice Over: Oliver Corff, James Crompton, Viky Feghali, Lilian-Astrid Geese, Marcus Grauer, Niels Hamdorf, Antoinette Janko, Catherine Johnson, Günther Orth, Katherine Vanovitch, Sebastian Weitemeier

Layout and design website: Silke Krieg

Website programming: Georg Lauteren