“Our commitment must be to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity's common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
The 31 national governments of IHRA have pledged to uphold the tenets of the Declaration of the Stockholm forum on the Holocaust (2000). This includes a commitment to “take all necessary steps to facilitate the opening of archives in order to ensure that all documents bearing on the Holocaust are available to researchers.” Researchers are not just scholars and students, but include the broad range of educators, journalists, genealogists, jurists, and members of the public who use and access the material record of the Holocaust to understand the past and the present.
Until recently, the scale of the challenges encountered by researchers has been somewhat anecdotal and imprecise. To amend this, IHRA launched a Multi-Year Work Plan on Archival Access in late 2012. A multinational team of experts designed and continues to oversee this project. It began with a multi-language international survey, which was active between 4 June 2013 and 4 April 2014. The survey received promotion in a number of scholarly, genealogical, and other researcher-focused forums in the English-, French-, German-, and Russian-speaking worlds. It assessed challenges in the 31 countries of IHRA, as well as in countries that are not yet member states.
In the end, the survey yielded 547 responses. Of these, 261 indicated a serious challenge to access of the materials relevant to study of the Holocaust. Such challenges included legal obstacles, the closure of archives, prohibitive costs, inadequate research facilities, and the poor physical condition of some materials.
IHRA followed this survey with a consultation of archival experts in June 2014. Held at IHRA headquarters in Berlin, this consultation included 14 participants, each of whom represented major archival-holding institutions, organizations that collect and make available the material record of the Holocaust, and major scholars in the field of Holocaust studies. The participants’ range of expertise covers a broad geographical scope – from North America to Western Europe, and from Eastern Europe to the MENA region. These participants and IHRA experts concluded unanimously that the challenges are significantly greater than those indicated by the IHRA survey. Within the EU, for example, discussions on data privacy are increasingly minimizing opportunities to utilize materials such that restrictions to access have become significantly great in Western European EU member states.
This situation is made worse due to diminished state support for the maintenance and staffing of archival institutions; the often high costs associated with the copying and use of materials; and policies that occasionally restrict access based on citizenship, profession, and the use of Holocaust-era materials for commercial and non-for-profit purposes.
Overcoming existing and new impositions on researchers requires broad international cooperation and a reaffirmation of the commitments outlined in the Stockholm Declaration of 2000. Based on the work undertaken thus far, IHRA is engaging in multiple strategies. Following the December 2014 plenary meeting in Manchester, the countries represented at IHRA agreed to “undertake a review of still-classified or otherwise administratively restricted archival material pertaining to the Holocaust, and that the results of this review are reported to the Plenary.” In addition, IHRA representatives and chairs continue to engage with governmental authorities to seek exceptions and declarations that will ensure full access to the material record of the Holocaust.
To report a challenge experienced at an archive or other repository, please send an email to info [at] holocaustremembrance [dot] com
Steering Committee on Archival Access