EHRI-PP General Partner Meeting | “Like Playing Twelve Games of Chess”
EHRI-PP General Partner Meeting, Prague, 17 May 2022
One of the highlights for the EHRI Consortium is the General Partner Meeting, an annual or bi-annual gathering of representatives of all partner-institutions involved. People who mostly work remotely from countries all over the world, but who all share a special interest in Holocaust research, get together for face to face meetings in one location. This time, over fifty people representing the institutions involved in the EHRI-PP project, travelled to Prague, where EHRI partner, the Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences hosted the event at the venue of the Univerzita Karlova (Charles University), the Karolinum. The last time the EHRI-PP consortium met in person for a General Partner Meeting was in February 2020 in Munich, before the outbreak of the corona pandemic, so this year’s meeting had a special shine.
Despite the joyous atmosphere created by meeting again in-person, the event was overshadowed by concerns for the people working at the EHIR-3 partner, the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Lviv, Ukraine. After the opening of the General Partner Meeting by Co--Director of EHRI, Reto Speck and Prof. Eva Zažímalová, President of the Czech Academy of Sciences, the first session was dedicated to EHRI and the war in Ukraine and online contact was made with Taras Nazaruk, the Head of Digital History Projects at the Center in Lviv. Speaking to us from a big screen, Taras told the audience about the difficult situation for himself and the Center and how they still managed to continue their work. The Center is also acting as a place where refugees from other parts of the country take shelter before they move on. In the meantime, first steps in recording testimonies about the war for the archive of the future, are taken. The Center is committed to staying active and continue their work for as long as possible. Taras himself, however, could be drafted for the Ukrainian army at any moment.
After this moving session, it was not without some difficulty that the meeting continued with the rest of the programme. Nevertheless, as this general meeting was dedicated to the Preparatory Phase of EHRI establishing itself as a permanent European Holocaust Research organisation, it was also felt that the understanding and commemoration of Europe’s past and the setting up of a European network had now more urgency than ever.
To establish a permanent organisation in the form of an ERIC, a European Research Infrastructure Consortium, all cooperating countries must establish national nodes, a national network of Holocaust related research, archival and museum institutes, with one acting as central coordinator. In the Czech Republic, this node is already well on its way and a panel of those involved – Prof. Štěpán Jurajda, CERGE-EI and deputy Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, Marek Višinka, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Prof. Jan Hajič, LINDAT/CLARIAH-CZ, Charles University, and Dr. Michal Frankl, EHRI-CZ, Masaryk Institute and Archives – told those present what you can expect when you set up a node and the challenges and difficulties you may encounter.
Later in the afternoon, a separate meeting was organised about the development of nodes in different countries and the progress that is being made. Michal Frankl, who is the coordinator of this process noted: “It feels like playing twelve games of chess, that each start at a different time and are in a different phase”. However, as it appeared, developments are good in many countries, and apart from the Czech Republic, also the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, the UK, Slovakia, Israel, Germany and especially Austria have made excellent progress.
A permanent EHRI, being its own organisation, will need a legal framework and financial planning. Future policies for research, user and technical strategies have to be developed. What will be EHRI’s target group, its core business? What can it offer to its users, building on what is already established as for example the EHRI Portal, training and fellowships programme? How will EHRI communicate and reach its community? The rest of the General Partner Meeting was devoted to presentations and discussions on this work in progress, that will result in a Business and Implementation Plan.
After the first day in Prague, another day was reserved for meetings that discussed the work in more detail and sometimes in smaller groups
A stable transnational organization requires a clear strategy. Therefore, the governance structure, the integration with the national and European legislation, and the policies to be enclosed in the statutes of the future EHRI-ERIC were key aspects tackled during the working meetings. Open access, the human resources policy, and intellectual property rights are essential for EHRI’s mission to overcome fragmentation and connect sources, people, and institutions.
Human resources are central to EHRI. Therefore, the policies enabling transparency, equal opportunities, and sustainable development were carefully discussed. To facilitate the access to the resources distributed worldwide, a closer look was taken to creating a framework with the principle of access to services, with terms and conditions for online and offline use, with various forms of access (fellowships, training, seminars, workshops online and offline).
The outcomes presented during the meeting on EHRI’s research and innovation strategy described trends in Holocaust research, such as social and geographical particularization, methodological plurality, diversity of sources and access to new material, and aftermath studies. Focusing on innovation, EHRI performed several foresight studies that allowed the identification of significant trends in the future Holocaust research field. The analysis also helped identify EHRI’s role in supporting multi disciplinarity, comparative research, digital advancement, and providing Digital Humanities knowledge. A quantitative scan of the Holocaust research landscape was announced for the upcoming period.
Analysing the directions of the research trends as well as the debates on broadening the thematic scope, led to the proposal that EHRI keeps its focus on the core of facilitating access to Holocaust-related sources and will at the same time encourage cooperation beyond the consortium, supporting research on antisemitism and on other forms of Nazi persecution and crimes.
Stakeholders and users
A key aspect of the EHRI partners’ meeting agenda was the relationship with the main stakeholders and users (academic and non-academic, intra- and non-governmental organizations, national authorities, and European research area). Analysing their objectives and needs, and understanding how EHRI could respond, are essential for defining the value proposition of the future consortium and shaping the collaborations with the stakeholders.
All in all, the meetings were closed with a general feeling of optimism: The launch of a permanent EHRI in January 2025 is a realistic and already almost tangible event.
Most participants, after two years of living in longer or shorter periods of lockdown, also enjoyed the social aspect of the meetings and the traditional consortium dinner. Another General Partner Meeting, of the EHRI-3 Consortium, takes place in Amsterdam in June.
Images: First 5 photos by Vlasta Mádlová, Masaryk Institute and Archives of the Czech Academy of Sciences.