info @ archimuse.com
published: April, 2002
The first W -- A Web Site for Non-English Speaking Audiences
Lawrence Swiader, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, USA
This paper presents one such opportunity. In it, I will discuss how the project came about, why we made a decision to translate parts of the site into two other languages, what it took in terms of technology to successfully display these languages, and the results of our decision.
The Web site presented is "Holocaust Era in Croatia: Jasenovac 1941-1945" (www.ushmm.org/jasenovac). The decision was made to translate this Web site into the Serbian and Croatian languages. The Serbian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet while Croatian uses the Latin alphabet, but with its own diacritics. But our endeavor was even greater than the adding of these two languages for we also made the editorial decision to represent in the English text the foreign diacritics when appropriate, for example, with the word " Ustaa." This paper will present the point of view that the effort was worthwhile, but that to really be effective a variety of Museum staff -- from fundraising to communications -- must be involved
Keywords: Jasenovac, Croatian, Serbian, Foreign Language, Web Site, Non-English speaking
After Germany and its Axis allies invaded Yugoslavia in April, 1941, the Nazis permitted the fascist and terrorist Ustaa organization to found the Independent State of Croatia. The Ustaa regime established numerous concentration camps in Croatia between 1941 and 1945. The largest was the Jasenovac camp complex.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) endeavored to create a Web site that chronicles crimes committed during the Holocaust era in Croatia, memorializes the victims, and archives artifacts from the Jasenovac Memorial Area Collection. The Memorial section is a moving audio-visual collage of images and oral histories from Jasenovac victims. The Collection section displays never-before-seen artifacts including documents, photographs, maps, film, transcripts, testimony, and personal objects. The History section educates visitors about the origins of the independent state of Croatia, its targeted populations and concentration camps, and the research being done today.
The site is a triptych that uses three distinct modes of interactivity:
the Memorial uses sounds, words and images to create a poetic experience;
the Collection provides unmediated access to the archives; and the History
section educates visitors about the broader story of the Holocaust in
Croatia. These three interactive experiences were designed to reflect
the mission of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: remembrance,
education, and conscience.
The site is available in three languages: Serbian (in the Cyrillic alphabet), Croatian (in the Latin alphabet), and English. It is this characteristic of the Web site that is perhaps its most important as well as its most difficult to achieve. The mission of the USHMM describes an audience that is national. The Web site, however, has consistently attracted an audience of internationals. Nearly ten percent of the average 300,000 visitors the Web site attracts each month come from countries other than the United States. The ten percent comes mainly from English-speaking audiences as the table shows.
When we were first presented with the idea of creating a Web site to highlight the Jasenovac artifacts, we knew that the international segment of the audience for the Jasenovac Web site was decidedly not English speaking. That segment of our target audience was later defined as those people currently living in Croatia, Yugoslavia, and the former Yugoslav republics that speak and read the Serbian and Croatian languages. We felt the best way to reach this new audience was to speak their language.
We had had some experience reaching out to foreign language speakers via the Web with the Holocaust in Greece (www.ushmm.org/greece) Web site that was created in 1999. In building that Web site, we also were working with a language that didnt have a Latin character set. Our advantage then was this authors ability to read and write in Greek and his Greek system (Windows 95) on his home computer. The Greek system made the writing of the HTML and Greek language text easy because Notepad in the Greek system could work in both languages. Furthermore, it was possible to compose the Greek text in Word, spell check, and then paste it into Notepad where the HTML was created. Without the Greek version of the Windows 95 operating system this would have been nearly impossible.
In 2001, the USHMM acquired the Windows 2000 operating system. This system (and the newest Microsoft system, Windows XP) offers many more capabilities for foreign languages. By adding foreign language keyboards, typing directly into Notepad (or any part of the system) in the desired foreign language is permitted.
Our process for the Jasenovac site was to have the two language specialists who would write in Croatian and Serbian enter type directly into the HTML code using Notepad. Later, we would format the text. Spell checking was done by hand; that is, by asking the writers to print out the text and copy edit, as well as sending the text to others who could independently edit the text.
An investment in the Microsoft Proofing Tools program would have made the spell checking easier. By loading it onto the Windows 2000 system, it works with the Office suite to allow spell checking in various languages. After the spell checking, the text can be pasted into Notepad.
All that was left now to allow for the display in the chosen language was to include the proper character set in the meta tag for the HTML page. That code looks like this for Serbian: <META content="text/html; charset=utf-8" http-equiv=Content-Type>. The important part of the code is the charset=utf-8. That character set definition sends a message to the browser that displays a type face that is able to display the text. Users without foreign language fonts who choose to attempt to view the foreign language pages are frustrated. The following email from a colleague exemplifies this:
To: Lawrence Swiader/USHMM@US_HMM, Adele O'Dowd/USHMM@US_HMM
Thanks for your note. You need to have the proper
multilingual type faces to view any foreign language. Unfortunately, the
Mac is not very good at other languages. I'm not bothered by this as the
Serbian and Croatian sections were meant for those people who speak those
languages in their countries and they will not have a problem viewing
My assertion at the end of the response to Amy has (so far) proven to becorrect. Many people from the target countries have accessed the site successfully as demonstrated by the following email messages received by the USHMM (translations by USHMM researcher Sanja Primorac are italicized and bold):
Our success in reaching out to our target populations was only mitigated by some English language speakers not being able to see the diacritics we chose to include in the English text.
This is the first Web site for which we choose to include diacritics. Our style guide for publications has long included the stipulation that diacritics to properly display accent marks be used in English language texts. We had always shied away from using them on the Web because browsers could not support them. Given that 90% of the USHMM Web visitors come to our site using the Internet Explorer browser (5.0 or above), we decided that most visitors to the Web site had the capability to see the foreign language markings. And we were correct once we got the code right.
To get all the diacritics to display properly, the developers at Second Story (the company hired to do the Web site production) had to go through all the text and insert the right alphanumeric code for each diacritic. Nezavisna Drava Hrvatska became Nezavisna Država Hrvatska in the code.
A critical component in successfully reaching out to the international audience we targeted was the participation in the process by our Department of Communications. Never before had we cooperated in such a way. On November 13, the USHMM Communications Department arranged for a press conference to announce that
For the past year, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has saved from deterioration, organized and conserved thousands of artifacts, tens of thousands of documents, thousands of photographs, and hours of film footage from one of World War IIs most notorious concentration camp systems, Jasenovac www.ushmm.org/jasenovac. The site will be available beginning November 13 and contains a camp history, photographs and films from the camp, oral histories of camp survivors, images and descriptions of items from the collection, and more.The Museum believes this press conference marks the first time any of these objects have been displayed in the United States, and probably outside the former Yugoslavia . The Museum has also established a Web site on the Jasenovac camp at
As a result of the press conference, the New York Times (New York Times, Croatia: Nazi-Era Camp Artifacts Returned, 12.06.2001) and the Washington Post both ran substantial articles (The Washington Post, Pieces of Croatias Holocaust Now Online, 11.14.2001). US News and World Report and BBC radio also covered the story. This coverage in major news outlets led to many Croatian and Serbian news reports.
A report in Croatian with a link to our site was found while analyzing our Web statistics. The URL for the site is: http://www.vecernji-list.hr/2001/11/16/Pages/pol-ust.html. The fact that they quote the USHMM statistics regarding the atrocities in Croatia allows us to believe that we are succeeding with our stated goal of reaching out to this audience. One e-mail to the Museum took issue with the numbers he read in the report.
I was pleased to visit recently, and to learn that you have finally learned something about the horrors at the death camp in Jasenovac - which in brutality and demonic murder of NOT 100,000 AS YOU HAVE NOTED BUT OVER 700,000! SERBS, GYPSIES AND JEWS. Please continue your work, and do not be deterred by those in Croatia which strive to minimize this horrendous crime. Thank you.
Other foreign references to our site include:
News reports, in turn, the lead to many chat sessions. A sample from a Croatian language Web site (http://www.monitor.hr/cgi-bin/ubb2/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=17&t=003101) follows:
Upon finding this reference to the Jasenovac Web site in a log analysis, I again asked my colleague Sanja Primorac for some translation assistance. Her response via email:
Thanks for forwarding this. It
is very amusing.
In the first five days the Web site was live,
there were 1,486 visits from Croatia (over 11,000 total). In previous
months, Croatia does not even show up on the Web log report. There were
also 77 visits from Yugoslavia, 57 from Bosnia Herzegovina, and 11 from
Slovenia. One week later, the numbers had grown to over 30,000 total
visitors and nearly 3,000 from Croatia alone.
This Web site cost over $90,000 to produce. And this does not include the cost of time spent by people outside the USHMMs Outreach Technology Department. Over fifteen people worked on the project with five people working on the translations.
With less than three months to complete the project, five people were absolutely necessary to complete the translations. The translated parts of the Web site included:
Because of the time constraints we decided not to translate all the text that appeared as art in the Web site. This was a decision that worried us, but to date, not one person has reported that the site was less accessible because they couldnt read the art. Had we been able to better plan for the fact that we would not be able to translate the text that appeared as art, we would have tried to use more symbols. For example, a printer icon rather than the word print would have made sense to all users.
The experience and results of creating the Jasenovac Web site has inspired us to do more. Currently in progress is a translation of the cornerstone of our Web sitethe Learning Centerinto Spanish. We are officially considering this a pilot program that we hope will later be funded. We will translate all the top level articles and post them to the Internet while awaiting funding for the 200+ articles at other levels of the site.
Increasingly, the USHMM Development Department is telling us that thinking about new audiences may bring new types of donors to the Museum. We hope this is the case for the Learning Center. And we hope with additional funding we can truly call our on-line representation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum an international institution with patrons who speak many languages.