European Union Project Aims to Establish Network of Holocaust Archives

The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure Project will be inaugurated this week at a ceremony in Brussels.

David Pastel was a Jew of Polish origin who emigrated to France before World War II, as shown in a number of documents that piece together his fate during the Holocaust. He was caught early in the war and put in an internment camp at Beaune-la-Rolande. On June 28, 1942 he was sent to Auschwitz.

He survived the camp but was murdered in January 1945 in a death march. The local priest decided to bury the dead in a mass grave. Because he didn't know their names, he asked his assistant to register the numbers tattooed on their arms. The numbers were later put on gravestones.

A Holocaust memorial plaque in Poland (Yad Vashem)
Yad Vashem

A Holocaust researcher interested in documenting Pastel's fate would have to go to four archives in four different countries to collect the information. At the Yad Vashem archive in Jerusalem, a document on which Aharon Pastel, David's son who survived the Holocaust, registered information on his father can be found. There is also a photograph of father and son from before the war.

At Paris' Holocaust museum, researchers will find Pastel's registration card from Beaune-la-Rolande. The document expelling him to Auschwitz is at the International Tracing Service at Bad Arolsen, Germany, where researchers will also find a photograph of Pastel during a Passover seder at the camp. At the Auschwitz Museum in Poland, the researcher will find the list of the buried, as it was taken down by the priest's assistant.

But now a new European Union project aims to create a unified network of Holocaust archives to make it easier for researchers and the public to find information.

The European Holocaust Research Infrastructure Project will be inaugurated next Tuesday at a ceremony in Brussels. Israel will be represented by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and the chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, Avner Shalev.

"The nature of the events of the Holocaust is that their documentation is spread all over the world because the Nazis tried to destroy not only the Jews but also the memory of Jews," said the director of the Yad Vashem archive, Dr. Haim Gertner. "Before you could reconstruct what happened, you had to make an enormous effort to collect every piece of information."

In the project are 20 archives and research institutes from 13 countries in Europe and Israel. This includes Yad Vashem, which houses the most important archive containing more than 130 million documents.

The European Commission has funded the project to the tune of 7 million euros.

"This is an important and even historic project, especially at a time when there is a struggle over different narratives of memory of the previous century," Shalev said. "Europe is establishing here that it wishes to see the Holocaust's unique standing in the joint European historical narrative."

The idea is to use technology to preserve and document the Shoah. The project aims to create a kind of shared language that will enable the various documents to "talk to each other."

The project will include a database that lists the collections. A specially designed thesaurus will try to overcome the language barrier - so many of the documents are in different languages. A list of 5,000 key words will be translated into all the relevant languages.