On the 16th of November 2010 the project called EHRI, the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure, was launched in Brussels. This project is financed by the European Union and will take four years to complete. EHRI's main objective is to support the European Holocaust research community by opening up a portal that will give online access to dispersed sources relating to the Holocaust all over Europe and Israel, and by encouraging collaborative research through the development of tools. To achieve this by 2014 twenty organizations - research institutions, libraries, archives, museums and memorial sites - from thirteen countries will work together in a consortium.
Research and remembrance
According to the British historian Tony Judt the Second World War has finally become history in Europe. In order to keep remembering why it was judged so important to build a new Europe ‘out of the crematoria of Auschwitz’, Judt argues, we can only resort to history. The ‘vital link’ between Europe´s past and Europe´s present must be taught over and over again. To be able to teach Europe´s past, the historical research needs to become truly European and transcend national borders. But even now it is still difficult to conduct real international research into the Holocaust.
Acces to archives
Holocaust studies rely more than most other fields of research on a huge variety of archives. Holocaust archives are fragmented and scattered all over the world, making access complicated, if not impossible, and very time-consuming. The fragmentation of sources does not only result from the fact that the Holocaust was not restricted to one place or country, but also from the Nazi attempts to destroy the evidence, and the migration after the Second World War of Holocaust survivors. After the war many different projects have been set up to document what happened. In recent decades even more specific collections have been established, especially in regional centres, and Eastern European archives have opened up. Unfortunately there is no uniformity in cataloguing and describing. Many different languages are used in the original documents as well as in the cataloguing systems. Finally, one of the major challenges for every scholar of the Holocaust is to avoid the domination of the perpetrators’ sources over the voices of persecuted Jews. The documents of Jews and their organizations often followed the fate of their owners: they were in many cases destroyed or dispersed.
Although many organizations throughout Europe and Israel have already done excellent work in collecting and saving documents, objects, photo’s, film and art related to the Holocaust, it is now possible to bring all these sources together and take the research into this area several steps further. To this end, EHRI will design and implement a Virtual Research Environment (VRE) offering online access to a wide variety of dispersed Holocaust archives and to a number of tools to work with them. Building on integration programmes undertaken over the past decades by the twenty partners in the consortium and a large network of associate partners, EHRI sets out to transform the data available for Holocaust research around Europe and elsewhere into a cohesive body of resources.
An important condition for making a success of EHRI, is an interdisciplinary structure. The scholars involved in EHRI are not only trained historians and political and social scientists but also archivists and digital research infrastructure specialists. The collaboration between historians, archivists and IT specialists is crucial to EHRI's ambition.
Although EHRI is primarily geared to the needs of scholarly communities, the online availability and open access to reliable Holocaust material set in the proper context, is relevant to and important for the general public as well. A European approach is essential to achieve a better understanding of the Holocaust as a European phenomenon, so that the vital link between Europe’s past and present can be taught over and over again.