Safeguarding Access to Archives

For decades a significant amount of the documentation bearing on the Holocaust and its historical context has been scattered, endangered, and in many cases inaccessible. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s archival access project sought to map challenges faced by researchers and contributed to ensuring that a specific exception for documents bearing on the Holocaust was included in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As the deadline for the GDPR coming into force approaches, we examine the key conclusions and recommendations of the project’s final report on ensuring archival access within IHRA Member Countries.

“It is vital that the thousands of researchers and organizations that require access to Holocaust-related materials can continue the research and educational efforts necessary to keep alive interest and knowledge of this subject. Millions of pages remain inaccessible due to legal mechanisms, arbitrary access policies, and exorbitant costs for use in archives across IHRA Member Countries.” said Dr. Robert Williams, Chair of the IHRA Archival Access Project.

Since 2012 the IHRA has been concerned with the potential impact of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on Holocaust research. Following IHRA’s efforts, on 14 April 2016 the European Parliament adopted a version of the GDPR which includes a specific exclusion for documents bearing on the Holocaust.

Among other recommendations, the project notes that national regulations in IHRA Member Countries should conform with the spirit of the Stockholm Declaration and the need for an exception along the lines of that outlined in the GDPR, namely exceptions for access to those materials that relate to the Holocaust, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide and that all Member Countries should ensure full and open access to the historical record of the Holocaust in government-run and governmentally funded archives and libraries by 8 May, 2020, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities of the Second World War in Europe.

IHRA’s founding document, the Stockholm Declaration, to which all 31 IHRA 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.”

The IHRA Committee on Archival Access continues its work with IHRA Member Countries and partner organizations to build the structure and regulations necessary to live up to the tenets of the Stockholm Declaration and to ensure the permanence of open access to Holocaust sources.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance unites governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, remembrance and research worldwide and to uphold the commitments of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration.

Archives in the Mémorial de la Shoah, Paris. Credit: Mémorial de la Shoah/photo Pfrunner