Enabling research and remembrance: the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure
A leading challenge to Holocaust research is that archival source material tends to be dispersed across Europe and beyond. To remedy this, an EU-funded project created an online database and collaborative network for Holocaust researchers.
© ChiccoDodiFC #134686405, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
The Holocaust was an era of chaos, destruction and death. Across Europe, millions of Jews were murdered and many others displaced. Despite decades of research, we have not yet grasped the full extent of the Nazi’s destruction.
This is in large part because, following the war, many of the remaining sources that could tell the story of the Holocaust, such as documents and photos, became fragmented and dispersed making access complicated, if not impossible.
To remedy this, the EU-funded EHRI project leveraged digital tools as a means of bringing information and people together. The result is the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure portal which encourages collaborative research by giving online access to dispersed source information relating to the Holocaust.
The project is a collaboration between 24 organisations, research institutions, libraries, archives, museums and memorial sites from 15 European countries, Israel and the United States. The project team successfully integrated data pertaining to more than 235 000 documents from over 650 archival institutions and attracting, on average, around 10 000 visitors every month.
‘EHRI set out to overcome one of the hallmark challenges of Holocaust research the wide dispersal of archival source material across Europe and beyond,’ said project coordinator Conny Kristel of the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the Netherlands.
Building a portal, creating a network
The EHRI portal provides online access to information about dispersed and institutionalised Holocaust-related sources. It was specifically designed to be intuitive and user-friendly. As such, all data has been categorised as reports on countries and descriptions of archival institutions or archival holdings.
Using a search box, users can either look into everything in the portal or limit their search to countries, institutions and holdings. Once completed, filters can be used to further refine the search results.
Apart from providing an online platform, EHRI also facilitated an extensive network of researchers, archivists and others to increase cohesion and coordination among practitioners and to initiate new transnational and collaborative approaches to the study of the Holocaust.
EHRI provided researchers and archivists with stipends to visit partner institutions to research their collections and to access institutional expertise. Its transnational access services proved particularly important to junior academics and researchers from Eastern Europe, enhancing mobility, knowledge transfer and access to relevant resources. EHRI also organised conferences, seminars, workshops and online courses.
One of the key results of the project is the integration of smaller institutions and regions in Central and Eastern Europe that have been under-represented in Holocaust research. This is important as most of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust lived in this region.
While institutions from this region hold very comprehensive documentation on the Holocaust, it is often imperfectly described, difficult to access and, in some cases, in danger of destruction.
Having identified over 500 institutions in Central and Eastern Europe in possession of relevant Holocaust collections, the project was able to integrate around 20 000 descriptions of archival units into the portal. Consequently, previously inaccessible data is now easily accessible to Holocaust researchers everywhere.
‘By establishing links with institutions, individual researchers and research groups across Europe, EHRI has enabled truly transnational Holocaust research,’ said Kristel.
A bulwark against hatred
To continuously preserve the history of the Holocaust is a moral obligation, and to teach each generation its lessons a social and political necessity. According to Kristel, the challenges associated with doing so have never been greater.
‘Just as the number of survivors able to testify is dwindling, Holocaust denial is once again rearing its ugly head,’ she said. ‘By serving as a pan-European source of shared values and learning, EHRI has acted as a bulwark against such hatred.’
EHRI is an important European Research Infrastructure initiative in the fields of social and cultural innovation. It was included in the 2018 Roadmap Update of the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).
To honour the memory and legacy of Dr. Conny Kristel, former EHRI project director and senior researcher at the NIOD, who sadly passed away on 6 October 2018, EHRI has launched Conny Kristel Fellowship.