A United Europe from the ashes of Auschwitz
All Europe’s archives relating to the Holocaust are going to be collected together in one data bank, the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI). Research into the persecution of Jewish people during the Second World War will for the first time be “democratic and open to everyone”. The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD) is in charge of the project.
Many children and grandchildren of Holocaust victims have spent years trying to find out the story of precisely what happened to their relatives. Documents detailing the horrors of the Holocaust have up to now been spread across Europe in various national archives.
The information will now be gathered together in the new data bank comprising the Holocaust archives of 13 European countries and Israel. The archives of former Communist Eastern European countries will for the first time be available to all.
“It is the European Union’s duty to ensure this legacy of information remains alive,” says Robert-Jan Smits, the Netherlands’ most senior civil servant at the EU, which is subsidising the EHRI to the tune of EUR seven million. “Let us not forget that present-day Europe arose from the ash of Auschwitz crematoria.”
The EHRI was launched in Brussels on Tuesday. The NIOD’s Conny Kristel is leading the project. “We have experience of international projects,” she says. “The Netherlands has a Europe-wide reputation for being a small country able to bring various partners together and do something well.”
Kristel says the archive will cater to professional researchers as well as individuals looking for information about their families. “Holocaust research will become democratic,” explains Michal Frankl from Prague’s Jewish Museum, one of the partners in the EHRI project.
At the end of WWII, most of Eastern Europe’s Holocaust archives disappeared behind closed doors. “They were guarded by the secret police,” Frankl says. Now that they are being made public at last – 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – it will be easier for people to “solve their puzzles”.
“Take, for example, the Dutch Jews deported to Theresienstadt. Up to now, you had to visit the archives in Amsterdam, Prague or Jerusalem to find out what exactly happened to them. When the EHRI is up and running, you’ll be able to find out just what you want immediately online.”
Frankl believes it is really important that Europe’s young people know about the history of the Holocaust. “Not just about the dry facts, but about their significance: that the unification of Europe is the direct result of the Holocaust.”
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