EHRI Gathers on Zoom to Kick Off Its Third Project Phase with Many New Plans
In November this year, the EHRI project will be 10 years old. For the first time in its existence, the Kick-Off meeting of a new phase was not an actual gathering of people but an online event. However, as Director of Archives at Yad Vashem and EHRI veteran, Haim Gertner, said: We are used to working from afar yet still close together, and this was visible during the Zoom event. 70 participants from 17 countries and 26 institutions, including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where it was only 3.30 am when the event started, joined in the meeting buzzing with enthusiasm for new plans.
The new Project Director of EHRI-3, Karel Berkhoff (senior researcher at NIOD), started the meeting with an introduction to EHRI, this new phase, himself and the day-to-day project management team based at NIOD. After his introduction and welcome, the floor was given to the team leaders of the fourteen Work Packages – each work package being a group of related tasks within the project. Every Work Package Leader explained the tasks set for the coming four years of EHRI and their new plans.
The heart of the project
First up were Veerle Vanden Daelen (Kazerne Dossin) and Michal Frankl (Masaryk Institute and Archives), who have both been involved in EHRI from early on. Veerle will lead “Data Identification and Integration”, a Work Package she also called “the heart of the project”, which in size is the biggest Work Package; it will bring in the new data for the EHRI Portal. Michal will take the lead of “Thematic Layers Across Collections”. He and his team have been responsible for the EHRI Document Blog and EHRI Editions and will consolidate these online publications while also experimenting with new and innovative tools. An important new focal point will be cross-border documentation, in line with EHRI’s transnational perspective.
The next two presentations were by Christian Groh (Arolsen Archives) and Michael Levy (US Holocaust Memorial Museum), who will lead two Work Packages that are completely new: “Connecting Micro-Archival Communities and Standards” and “New Approaches to Holocaust Research and Archiving” respectively. As the title says, the Work Package led by Christian will reach out to even the smallest, sometimes hidden or privately held collections, and help them to open up and integrate them in the Portal so they can be found. The “New approaches” Work Package will develop long-term access technologies and methodologies for Holocaust archives. It will also provide an overview on current methods, source types and research trends and questions in Holocaust research, while at the same time help a new generation of Holocaust researchers and others to unlock - through a series of practical events and exercises - the possibilities offered by digital humanities techniques and methodologies.
After a short break, Work Packages on “Dissemination” and “Impact, Innovation and Sustainability” were presented. Although the Work Package on Dissemination is already more established, team leader Rachel Pistol (King’s College London) announced new plans as well, such as a bigger focus on local and university communities. Dissemination will also build a documentation and publication repository, which can be used by the EHRI community. “Impact, Innovation and Sustainability” (with team leader Katharina Freise at NIOD) will make sure EHRI maximizes its impact and research possible innovations. More than ever, Work Packages will work together; for example, “Dissemination” will closely collaborate with “Impact” and will highlight innovations.
Localization and Capacity Building
A very new and exciting Work Package is “Localization and Capacity Building”, led by Yad Vashem’s Zohar Neumann. Again it will put more focus on regional and smaller communities, helping them to engage with an international community and to integrate their collections into the Portal. To that end, this team will develop an international community of experts in preserving, mapping and cataloguing and curating Holocaust collections and linked data. An EHRI ambassadors’ network and a mobile lab of experts will be set up to support local networks and organizations. Some Holocaust research and archival experts have had to work in an isolation, which the Covid-19 crisis has only increased; but with a network that is both physical as well as virtual, EHRI intends to support more isolated enterprises.
Training and fellowships
To conclude the presentations of Work Packages, Anna Ullrich (Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History) talked about her “Training and Education” Work Package and Ana Barbulescu (“Elie Wiesel” Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania) about the restart of the Conny Kristel Fellowship Programme. Both these Work Packages draw on previous experience and will also tread new paths. Up until now, most seminars were geared towards Holocaust researchers and academics, but in the next phase of the project, some will focus on new audiences such as educators and will have a “teach the teacher” approach. New will also be a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course. Several new seminars will be organized in cooperation with organisations outside EHRI. One of the most successful parts of EHRI has been the Conny Kristel Fellowship Programme: This phase 503 weeks of fellowships will be offered, with the possibility to stay at one or several of 20 EHRI institutions, located in 17 countries.
During the Zoom meeting, we could not ignore the influence Covid-19 will most likely have on some of our plans, especially the seminars and fellowships. The intention is to announce the first fellowship call before the end of 2020, but first an investigation into the situation in countries and organisations involved will be made. The seminars may also undergo a change of plans, depending on the developments. We may have to look into online alternatives. However, the general spirit during the meeting was one of resilience and finding ways to deal with the boundaries set by the current Coronavirus crisis. We could only conclude that the virtual access that EHRI has always provided (with its own Work Package led by Rachel Pistol), has become more important than ever.
The last hour of the Kick-Off proved that online meetings and presentations can be informative and enjoyable. In a chain of presentations that resembled somewhat a relay-race, representatives of almost all partners presented their organization in speed sessions of only 2 to 5 minutes, passing the baton from for example Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris to the Bundesarchiv to the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives to the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center in Milan. Here we were pleased to welcome two new partners: the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Ukraine.
EHRI's Past, Present and Future
Before some concluding remarks rounded up the meeting, the final word went to keynote speaker and Director of Archives of Yad Vashem, Haim Gertner. As co-founder of EHRI, he was in an excellent position to talk about “EHRI’s Past, Present and Future”. He remembered a conversation he had with Conny Kristel (Project Director of EHRI 2010-2018) just before EHRI was founded. In this talk she explained to him the difficulty she had in finding Holocaust sources on an international level. In Israel and the US, Holocaust research and commemoration already had a more universal focus, but in Europe - and perhaps understandably - most countries were (and are) very nationally orientated when it came to research and commemoration of the Second World War. However, the Holocaust was a European event, worth of transnational research, archiving and commemoration and, as Haim noted, EHRI has been "the single catalyst of Europeanization of Holocaust research". At present, Haim observed two trends: A growing interest (if not knowledge) by young people in the Holocaust, while at the same time, a disturbing increase in Holocaust distortion or even denial. Both trends make the continuation of EHRI important and far from trivial, not just for Holocaust research, but for research and society at large. We have already come a long way and will continue to collaborate as team players with a lot of plans, and still a lot to do. The covid-19 situation so far hasn’t stopped us, because we are already used to working froma distance.
Applauded in the Zoom way
Haim and the other speakers were applauded in the Zoom way, by emoji’s and gestures. With these uplifting words, we will move forward, fully aware that this time, at the end of the project, EHRI as a permanent organization will be well on its way, and ready to sustain and continue the achievements of EHRI-3.
If you have any comments or questions about EHRI's activities for the next four years, please don't hesitate to contact us.