The presentation of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure

Speech by the State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Cornelia Quennet-Thielen, Berlin, 26 March 2015

EHRI Final Event
EHRI Final Event © BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

State Secretary Sander Dekker,
State Secretary Marek Ratajczak,
Director-General Jan Robert Smits,
Professor Stock, Ladies and Gentlemen from across Europe,

I would like to thank you, also on behalf of Germany's Minister of Education and Research, Professor Johanna Wanka, for choosing Berlin as the location for the presentation of the EHRI online portal.

Berlin was the centre of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany and Europe. It is a miracle that 70 years later we live in peace and have been living in peace for the past 70 years. For many years and decades, researchers from across Europe have been working together to study the Holocaust, the biggest crime in human history.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is little more than a stone's throw from here. You see it on the conference poster. Since being opened in 2005, the Field of Stelae and the accompanying exhibition have provided a place to grasp the incomprehensible and to remember those who were previously nameless. The Room of Names gives identities to the victims.

Not far from there, the exhibition “Topography of Terror” documents the Nazi regime. It describes in stark detail the way the Nazi security apparatus worked.

Berlin was not only the centre of this brutal regime; it was also a place where brutality took place. During the National Socialist dictatorship, 55,000 Berlin Jews were victims of the Shoa; most of the rest fled or were expelled. This is a central aspect of the city’s heritage and a strong reminder to fight against anti-Semitism in any form.

At the same time, Berlin is once again becoming a centre of Jewish life in Germany, and has been doing so for a number of years. The American Jewish Committee sees Berlin as the world's fastest-growing Jewish community. This is a gift to Berlin, and a gift to us all. Berlin is permanent home to 12,000 Jews and host to 20,000 Israelis.

Since opening in 2001, the Jewish Museum Berlin has been recalling the inhumanity of extermination and expulsion as well as the long history of Jewish life in Germany. It has had large numbers of visitors and become a place of meeting in recent years.

The year 2012, to mention one last date, marked the opening of the Centre for Jewish Studies Berlin-Brandenburg, which my Ministry supports financially. There, we are building on the grand tradition of Jewish scholarship and intellectual thought.

Remembrance, research and continuation of Jewish history go together here hand in hand as they do at many other places in Germany and at many other places in Europe and around the world.

Creating places and resources of remembrance becomes ever more important, the fewer witnesses there are left alive. Germany has a particularly important responsibility in this. In persecuting and murdering the Jews, the Nazi regime also wanted to wipe out all trace and memory of Jewish life in Germany and the countries it occupied. But it did not succeed in its aim: remembering the Holocaust is fundamental for the Federal Republic of Germany. Our country's democracy has grown as we have addressed our history. A culture of remembrance has developed which we will maintain and continue to support.

Part of this responsibility is addressing this history by means of research. The EHRI is making an outstanding contribution in this field. The EHRI is a research infrastructure in the best sense. Traditionally research infrastructures often involve an expensive initial outlay on concrete and steel. By contrast, the EHRI is a digital and decentralized infrastructure.

The global networking of researchers is both an opportunity and a challenge. We can only gain new insights through new approaches – particularly in the humanities and the social sciences. For this purpose we need digital infrastructures in addition to such traditional infrastructures as collections, archives and libraries. Modern information and communication technologies are expanding the range of available possibilities. They make research work more straightforward by facilitating access to the whole range of sources. They enable new forms of cooperation, for example through virtual research environments.

Knowledge and research do not stop at national borders. National solutions must therefore be compatible with European and international structures, and in the medium term they need to be integrated in transnational structures.

Today's launch of the EHRI portal stands as a model example of technology-enabled collaboration that transcends national borders. We need transnational cooperation because archives and materials relating to the Holocaust are dispersed around Europe and the world.

I am very glad that German organizations are playing a vital role in this. The German partners are: the International Tracing Service (ITS), the Federal Archives, the Foundation for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Centre for Holocaust Studies at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich and the Göttingen State and University Library. The Centre for Holocaust Studies, which is funded by my ministry, is a high-profile international forum for holocaust research set up on a long-term basis.

The EHRI provides an excellent link between material culture, that is, tangible items in paper or other material form, and the digital possibilities for their presentation. Many sources in public and private archives can be matched together like pieces of a puzzle to create a bigger picture.

Today's opening of the EHRI portal is an important milestone. As of today, the EHRI portal can be used for searches across more than 1,800 archive facilities in 51 countries. Let me give you one example: The Terezín Research Guide provides a grim but highly informative look at the widely dispersed and fragmentary archive material relating to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Ladies and Gentlemen, against the background of the enormous progress made in the political and economic integration of the European Union even in the face of its many crises, the question has arisen in the last few years as to whether there should be a common European remembrance of the Holocaust. A crucial impulse towards the establishment and promotion of a "European memory" was provided by the international commemorations marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe. The Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust held in January 2000 put the spotlight on the efforts of many governments to make the Holocaust a common point of reference of Europe's culture of remembrance.

I cannot be sure whether this will succeed, in view of the very different experiences and the very different levels of responsibility. But I do know that joint research and a well-founded scholarly debate about what happened at that time and must never happen again, is of central importance for Europe.

The EHRI will make an important contribution towards this. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who were involved in setting up and developing the EHRI.

I hope and trust that the portal will have many dedicated users throughout the world – from the research community as well as from the general public.

I hope that we will all maintain the ability to keep memories alive and to ensure that such horror and atrocities will not happen again. Thank you.