EHRI Hosts International GDPR Workshop in Brussels

Thursday, 25 April, 2024

On 19th March 2024, EHRI organised an international workshop on the practical impact of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on access to Holocaust-related archival collections.

The workshop was hosted by EHRI’s long-term partner CegeSoma and was attended by archival and legal professionals with expertise in the topic from across six European countries as well as representatives of the Monitoring Access to Holocaust Collections Project of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the Ministry of the Foreign Office of the Republic of Poland and the National Archive of the Netherlands.


Elinor Kroitoru (middle) from IHRA presenting the case study of the Dutch Red Cross Archives


During the workshop, experts from four European Union member states countries (France, Italy, Romania and Slovakia) presented the respective national implementations of article 89 of the GDPR[1] to provide access to archival collections and specifically whether Recital 158[2] has been implemented in their countries. This was complemented with a presentation by Elinor Kroitoru (IHRA) on the aims and outcomes so far of the IHRA project and IHRA’s further plans as well as the case of the transfer of ownership of the war archives of The Netherlands Red Cross (approximately 300,000 files containing information on the fate of individuals or families during war times) to the Dutch National Archives. This transfer of ownership from a private to a public institution meant that the documents became subject to the general archival law, allowing the National Archives to close access to some of the files for many years. However, the Netherlands are now the first EU member state attempting to implement Recital 158 into national law to enable a re-opening of the collections (currently still under consultation). Lastly, Ornella Rovetta of the Belgian State Archives presented the Belgian case of the Metis resolution that demonstrates how an EU member state can apply Recital 158 to enable access to personal information from previously inaccessible personal files to support individual enquires into family histories. Although not related to Holocaust-related collections, this resolution provides a useful case study that shows how Recital 158 could also be used to advance access to Holocaust-related collections across Europe.


Ján Hlavinka (left, Director Holocaust Documentation Centre, Bratislava)
and Dr Andrej Werner (Partner in law firm WERNER & ANGER, Bratislava, Slovakia) presenting the case for Slovakia


EHRI participants of the workshop observed that the impact of GDPR on access to Holocaust-related collections can vary considerably in accordance with existing legal frameworks and cultures across Europe. In France, e.g., access to Holocaust-related collections has traditionally been open but the implementation of GDPR has come with access restrictions on personal data of deceased persons where this can impact on living persons. As the Holocaust is an integral part of European history, and its study and documentation a European-wide endeavor, enabling consistent and comprehensive access to collections of relevance to the Holocaust across Europe is of utmost importance. An inadvertent closing-down of access to Holocaust related collection due to GDPR, and therefore the ability of researchers to do cutting-edge research into the Holocaust, should be avoided by closely monitoring the way GDPR is impacting archival practice across Europe and disseminating case studies that demonstrate the use of recital 158 in the context of providing access to Holocaust-related archival collections. Finally, participants also agreed that awareness of the legal responsibilities often imposed on researchers accessing personal information in Holocaust-related collections due to GDPR should be increased, e.g., via developing training or relevant guidance. The workshop was organized as part of the EHRI-3 project and the organizers will feed the outcomes into the future work of the EHRI-ERIC.

[1] Art 89 of the GDPR regulates personal data processing for archiving in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes.

[2] Recital 158, also referred to as the “Holocaust exception”, allows EU countries to have in their national law specific provisions to access Holocaust-related collections even though they contain personal information about individuals.