IHRA Plenary Meetings in Budapest

12.06.2015

11 June 2015 —The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) successfully concluded its Plenary meetings in Budapest. The meetings were held from from 8-11 June, 2015.

IHRA was very pleased to welcome Australia and Monaco as new observer countries to IHRA at the Budapest Plenary. The IHRA Plenary took a decision to carry out a conference in 2016 on the mass murder of people with disabilities and its connection to the Holocaust; the conference will focus on the continuities regarding the methods and perpetrators. The Plenary also decided to publish the book “Bystanders, Rescuers or Perpetrators? The Neutral Countries and the Shoah”, as a follow up to the successul conference organized by Casa Sefarad-Israel in Madrid in 2014, and agreed to intensify IHRA’s multi-year work plan projects focusing on improving archival access, research into the impact of Holocaust education, identifying and preserving killing sites in Eastern Europe, and Holocaust Memorial Days.

Under the Hungarian Charimanship, IHRA experts and governmental representatives to discuss a number of important issues, including the possible impact of the General Data Protection Regulations on Holocaust research and outreach to countries not yet affiliated with IHRA, including Ukraine.

Over four days, more than 200 experts and policymakers from around the world representing 31 member countries, eight observer countries, and seven permanent observer organisations met to discuss the Holocaust as a contemporary political issue. As stated in the Stockholm Declaration of the year 2000, the unprecedented character of the Holocaust will always hold universal meaning and IHRA member countries pledge to strengthen their efforts to promote education, remembrance and research on the topic of the Holocaust.

One of the keys issues discussed at the recent IHRA Plenary meetings in Budapest was that of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This issue is of great concern to IHRA as parts of the organization’s core mandate, enshrined in the Stockholm Declaration, obligate member states 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.” 

There are innumerable cases by which access to sources brings closure to the questions of the past, on both the large and the small scale. At the individual level, access to sources brings about closure and answers to difficult questions for thousands, if not millions of individuals whose families fell victim to the policies of the Nazi state and its allies.  To note just one recent case:

  • A man who was born in Poland in 1927 became separated from his family when they were sent to Auschwitz from the Bedzin ghetto.  Having survived, the gentleman emigrated to Palestine in 1945.  Over the next two decades, he made many inquiries to the Red Cross in order to learn the fates of his father, mother, and four siblings.  In each case, the Red Cross found no information.  Utilizing International Tracing Service records, researchers were able to inform the gentleman only in 2010 that his father had survived the war, and that he in fact had emigrated to the new state of Israel in 1949.  Moreover, he lived only 50 miles away, and each had searched for the other in vain.

While the current GDPR legislation provides some exemptions for historical and scientific research, there has already been evidence that the imprecision of the language in GDPR could unintentionally bring about a decline in scholarship, education, and public awareness of the Holocaust.  The GDPR does not set clear guidelines about which agencies can determine when data is and is not historically relevant  and interpretation of this Regulation should not be left up to individual archivists. Some archives began to restrict accessibility in response to the GDPR- before it had been officially adopted.

In Budapest the IHRA Plenary, therefore, tasked the IHRA Chair and the Heads of Delegation of its 31 member countries (24 of whom are EU members) to inform their Permanent Representation to Brussels and their MEPs about the issue. IHRA will move to have specific Holocaust-related language incorporated in the relevant paragraph in order to ensure that all documents bearing on the Holocaust remain available to researchers.

The Hungarian Chairmanship also organised a number of evening events, the first of which took place at the Pava Street Holocaust Memorial Centre. On 9 June a concert took place at the Dohany Street Synagogue followed by a reception with Mazsihisz. 

Leading up to the Budapest Plenary, Mr Takács commented: 

“It is my honour to welcome the IHRA delegates to the first Plenary meetings under the Hungarian Chairmanship. The Holocaust is a very dark chapter, both in world history and in the national history of Hungary. As IHRA Honorary Chairman Yehuda Bauer says ‘no one comes out of the Holocaust clean’. Being a member of IHRA means confronting the past and facing up to your role in the history of the Holocaust, both the positive and the negative aspects. Hungary’s IHRA Chairmanship is an indication that the Hungarian government is serious about facing its past and about taking a firm stance against antisemitism and Holocaust denial to ensure a more positive future.”

The main focus of the Hungarian Chairmanship programme will be on tackling antisemitism, promoting Holocaust education, the issue of the Roma genocide and increasing the visibility and importance of the IHRA.

The Hungarian Chairmanship is also planning three large international conferences; on Holocaust-related imagery and language in public discourse; on the phenomenon of rising antisemitism in Western and Central-Eastern Europe; and on the genocide of the Roma with special focus on the current situation of the Roma in Europe.

The second Plenary in 2015 will take place from 2-5 November in Debrecen. One of the reasons for choosing the city of Debrecen as the venue of the second plenary was to also involve the Jewish community in more rural cities.

In 2016 the IHRA Chairmanship will be held by Romania.

The purpose of IHRA is to encourage political and social leaders to learn from the Holocaust for the benefit of citizens of member countries and the international public.  IHRA and the Hungarian Chairmanship look forward to further progress and concrete outcome from the Budapest meetings.

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