Europe launches new Shoah project in Brussels

Initiative spanning 13 countries aims to facilitate Holocaust research by improving access to documentation.

Gideon Sa’ar speech 311 (photo credit: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)
Gideon Sa’ar speech 311
(photo credit: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)
A new European archive and research project about the Holocaust, aimed at enabling easier access to dispersed and unconnected documents, was launched in Brussels on Tuesday.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev joined European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commissioner for Research Innovation and Science Maire Geoghegan- Quinn to mark the establishment of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI).
The four-year, €7 million project was put forth by the European Union as a source of information for researchers and educators around the world. According to Yad Vashem, EHRI is to date the most important European research project about Holocaust documentation, bringing together 20 partner organizations from 12 European countries and Israel.
Working projects will focus on creating a shared thesaurus of 5,000 keywords to allow unified searches across collections that contain millions of documents in numerous languages, encouraging research by creating a network among experts in various Holocaust-related fields. Other aspects of the project will deal with information technologies, access, and scholarships for researchers to study at Yad Vashem and at other archives.
“Accompanying the industry of death was the industry of concealing evidence: following the murder – burning the bodies. And then – scattering the ashes,” Sa’ar said at the event Tuesday.
“It is a moral duty to reassemble the shattered fragments of memory – in order to fill in the gaps and restore the faces to the victims,” he said. “To me, as the minister of education of the State of Israel, and for my fellow Israelis and Jews, this moral obligation is unquestionably solemn and clear.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from Brussels earlier in the day, Sa’ar said that creating an infrastructure of information and documentation was especially important in this era, “when survivors are passing away and there are fewer personal testimonies.”
The new research infrastructure, Sa’ar said, will help reach information that was spread out over different institutions, and “overcome many lacunae in the information we have about the Holocaust, and create a mosaic of the Holocaust and events surrounding it, including information about victims and their fates.”
Sa’ar stressed the importance of the focus on the fate of Jewish Holocaust victims, which he said was not to be taken for granted in the wake of attempts to trivialize the Holocaust or compare it to other historic events. At the same time, the initiative is another step forward in Europe’s perception of the Holocaust as an integral part of its history, he said.
The education minister spoke of the difficulties teachers in Europe encounter with Holocaust education, as they sometimes need to deal with Muslim populaces bearing hostility toward Israel that can lead to Holocaust belittlement or denial. He mentioned that the topic of Holocaust instruction in European schools came up in many of his meetings with his European counterparts. He also noted Yad Vashem’s ongoing training programs, such as the Seventh International Conference on Holocaust Education and Remembrance, which brought some 200 decision-makers in the field of education, officially representing some 40 countries, to Jerusalem this past June.
“The establishment of EHRI is especially important as different historical narratives are competing in Europe,” said Shalev ahead of the event. “Through EHRI, Europe is stating its understanding that the Holocaust has unique standing in the joint European historical narrative.”
Shalev added that “the nature of the events of the Holocaust, and the chaotic state of Europe in the immediate post-war [period], coupled with the Nazis’ effort to destroy not only the Jewish people, but all memory of them, has meant that information about the Holocaust is spread all over the world. In order to be able to begin to piece together what happened, information that is located in numerous archives throughout Europe must be connected.
EHRI will facilitate research into the Holocaust, and help us further piece together what happened, when and to whom.”