Recommendations & Guidelines

Recommendations on Archival Access

Taking all necessary steps to facilitate the opening of archives is one of the important commitments Member Countries have made under the Stockholm Declaration.

Access to Holocaust-related materials has been at the center of the IHRA’s work for more than a decade and is an IHRA priority. Under the 2020 Ministerial Declaration, Member Countries have underlined the importance of identifying, preserving and making available archival material for educational purposes, commemoration and research. Soon, survivors will no longer be with us, and access to Holocaust archives looms in importance for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. It is becoming a matter of priority for Governments, Parliaments and archival collections. This increased interest for the identification, preservation, access and use of archives should contribute to humanist and democratic values at the service of global peace.

In order to support IHRA Member Countries in following through on their commitments to make available archival material, IHRA experts advise to address the following categories of challenges:

Mitigate risks to archives

Hundreds of millions of documents, films, recordings, and other material evidence of the Holocaust are stored in archives, museums, and other repositories around the world. Yet numerous factors can threaten the existence of and access to these important materials. In some cases, this evidence is in imminent danger. At-risk materials can include print, photographic, film, audio, ephemeral, material, and born-digital objects. There are a number of factors that may contribute to archival materials being at risk. What causes archival holdings to be at risk? IHRA experts have identified that risk factors include: environmental conditions, political decisions and uncertainty, socio-economic aspects, and inherently unsustainable media.
Access to archives is a shared challenge, and solutions to archives at risk should be on a trans-national level.
The following recommendations are made:

Plan for emergency

IHRA delegations are to urge and support archives to develop proactive procedures and measures in case of emergency, including prioritization of collections.

Prioritize funding for digitization

IHRA Member Countries are to prioritize funding for digitization as a form of preservation and access, making sure not to rely on inherently unsustainable media, such as magnetic tape, optical discs (CDs and DVDs), or nitrate film, or materials that include acidic paper.

Provide adequate funding and support for better access and preservation

IHRA Member Country governments to create awareness of archival good practices and to ensure better conditions for access to and preservation of archival materials by providing adequate funding and support. This support is encouraged to also minimize costs for use of these collections by Holocaust researchers, museums and memorials.

Implement good practices

There has to be an understanding that archives differ from each other in many ways. We recommend introducing the following good practices to state archives and other archival entities in regard to Holocaust-related documentation:

Digitize collections

We recommend that digitization be made a priority due to the vital role it plays in promoting access and preservation.

Standardize metadata

We recommend standardization of metadata should follow the FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable)

Join professional networks

We recommend joining professional networks and using existing tools such as those offered by EHRI, Arolsen Archives, and others.

Translate general information on access to materials

We recommend that archives translate the general information regarding access to materials on their website into more languages, with English as a priority.

Translate finding aids

We recommend that archives translate the finding aids for collections into other languages, with English as a priority.

Remove legal obstacles

The legal obstacles to disclosure vary from country to country in the specific wording of the legislation. Nonetheless, most countries have the same exemptions in substance from disclosure, such as information obtained in confidence, breach of privacy, breach of copyrights, injury to national security and others.
As a means of navigating these legal obstacles, we recommend the following:

Implement Recital 158 GDPR

In order to deal with privacy regulations and GDPR obstacles, the implementation of Recital 158 in national law should be promoted. Recital 158 has been introduced following IHRA’s collective effort at EU level to secure access to Holocaust-related material.

Read more about the IHRA’s intervention.

Amend legislation to provide an exception for Holocaust records

As we notice that obstacles to access to Holocaust records stem from legislation which is general in nature, general legislation should be amended to provide an exception specific to Holocaust records to these general requirements, concerning both perpetrators and victims, in a similar function to that which Recital 158 has in the GDPR for EU countries.

Exercise Parliamentary power to obtain Holocaust-related records

In some Parliamentary systems, Parliaments can obtain documents from Governments which the public cannot obtain, as they are exempt from disclosure obstacles, for example, documents pertaining to war criminals’ trials. Where that is the case, Parliaments should exercise that power to obtain Holocaust-related records.

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These Recommendations help Member Countries to:

  1. Identify risks to archives. 
  2. Provide solutions to those risks, including working transnationally to find solutions. 
  3. Implement good practices to state archives and other archival entities regarding Holocaust-related documentation.  
  4. Remove legal obstacles, including encouraging the implementation of Recital 158 of the GDPR in national law.  
  5. Engage in post-project sustainable attention and action to ensure access to archives within IHRA Member Countries and beyond. 
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About this resource

Developed by the Monitoring Access to Holocaust Collections IHRA Project, these recommendations help to ensure policymakers and stakeholders know the steps that should be taken to provide open access to Holocaust collections. This key resource brings the world one step closer to open access to Holocaust collections.

The “Monitoring Access to Holocaust Collections” (2020-2023) project is a follow-up project to the IHRA’s “Archival Access” (2014-2017) project, which sought to map the status of accessibility to Holocaust period documentation and the challenges faced by researchers. The project also 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).

The Monitoring Access to Holocaust Collections IHRA Project aimed to help the IHRA map the legal and practical status of access to Holocaust collections and monitor difficulties with access. During the project, the IHRA team was in touch with various stakeholders and examined and analyzed five test cases. The recommendations reflect the general work and reflections of the project team, conclusions of the test cases reports and the input received during various exchanges with stakeholders.

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