“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 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is pleased that on Friday 18 December the EU came to an agreement on a version of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which includes a specific reference to the Holocaust.
The new EU data protection law will officially be adopted and published in early 2016. Considering the supreme importance of the Holocaust in the foundation of the European community following World War II and in light of rising antisemitism across Europe, which is most often connected to distortion and denial of the Holocaust, IHRA is glad that its comprehensive campaign in Brussels to raise awareness of the issue has led to the inclusion of the specific reference to the Holocaust.
Recital 125b of the GDPR now reads:
"Where personal data are processed for archiving purposes, this Regulation should also apply to that processing, bearing in mind that this Regulation should not apply to deceased persons. Public authorities or public or private bodies that hold records of public interest should be services which, pursuant to Union or Member State law, have a legal obligation to acquire, preserve, appraise, arrange, describe, communicate, promote, disseminate and provide access to records of enduring value for general public interest. Member States should also be authorised to provide that personal data may be further processed for archiving purposes, for example with a view to providing specific information related to the political behaviour under former totalitarian state regimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, in particular the Holocaust, or war crimes."
After two years of research and analysis, IHRA had determined definitively that researchers and research organizations were already being denied access to Holocaust-related materials on the premise that the GDPR would not permit the use of these materials, despite the fact that the regulation had not yet been adopted.
Current IHRA Chair, Hungarian State Secretary for European Affairs, Szabolcs Takács said “IHRA had been concerned with the potential impact of the GDPR on Holocaust research since 2012. While IHRA supported the EU decision to ensure the protection of personal data, the organization had always maintained that it was crucial that the right to be forgotten did not conflict with the responsibility to remember. This recent development marks a great success for the only intergovernmental organization which focuses on the Holocaust.”
Acting on behalf of IHRA’s 31 member countries- 24 of which are EU member countries- the IHRA Chair had made the issue of the draft GDPR a priority throughout the Hungarian IHRA Chairmanship in 2015. The issue had also been championed by previous UK IHRA Chair, Sir Andrew Burns, and Canadian IHRA Chair, Mario Silva.
Dr Kathrin Meyer, IHRA Executive Secretary, said “I am grateful to previous IHRA Chair’s for their engagement and would like to thank Mr Takács on behalf of 31 IHRA member countries for making the issue such a high priority of his Chairmanship. I am glad that he was able to achieve this positive result.”
Dr. Robert Williams of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Chair of IHRA's Committee on Archival Access, was instrumental in advising IHRA throughout the process and noted “The specific reference to the Holocaust is an important step forward in securing the permanence of Holocaust research and memory and prevents the GDPR becoming an excuse to restrict access to the crucial record of the Holocaust. It is vital that the thousands of researchers and organizations that require such access can continue to engage in the research and educational efforts necessary to keep alive interest and knowledge of this subject. We look forward to continuing our work with EU and IHRA member state governments to build the structures and regulations necessary to live up to the tenets of the Stockholm Declaration and to ensure the permanence of open access to Holocaust sources.”
Péter Nikolicza, justice counsellor at the Hungarian Permanent Representation to the EU, played a crucial role in pursuing the issue in Brussels. When asked how he felt on hearing that a deal had been reached, he said that he remembered IHRA's Honorary Chairman, Professor Yehuda Bauer's words, who had said at the IHRA Plenary in November in Debrecen that a specific reference to the Holocaust would greatly assist young researchers to get full access to Holocaust-related documents, thereby making sure that the Holocaust is not forgotten. Mr. Nikolicza expressed satisfaction that the final text of the GDPR was now in line with IHRA's principal goal.
The IHRA is the only intergovernmental organization which brings together both political representatives and academic experts working on Holocaust-related issues. Read more about the IHRA here.
24 of IHRA’s 31 member countries are also members of the European Union. IHRA’s founding document, the Stockholm Declaration, to which all 31 member countries are committed, states the unprecedented nature of the Holocaust and obliges countries 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.”
Download the press release as a pdf here.