Toespraak van staatssecretaris Dekker bij de lancering van de open acces portal van de European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI)
Toespraak van staatssecretaris Dekker (OCW) bij de lancering van de open acces portal van de European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) op 26 maart 2015.
State Secretary Cornelia Quennet –Thielen,
State Secretary Marek Ratajczak,
Mister Robert-Jan Smits,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a great honor for me to be able to address you today, here, at the official launch of the open access portal of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure. A research infrastructure that combines all the databases of our individual holocaust centers.
As State Secretary, I have closely followed the work of our Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and other holocaust organizations that have been involved in this project. It is of great importance to witness their successful achievement seventy years after the end of the Second World War.
I’m sure that all of us have the statistics of those who perished, etched into our memory. As they should be. We may never forget how many innocent sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, family members, neighbors, friends, and relatives were killed during the Holocaust.
Less well known are the stories of the millions of displaced persons who were away from their daily lives because they were forced to work in Germany. Because they were evacuated. Or because their houses were simply no longer there.
In May 1945, between seven and eight million men, women and children in Europe were far from home. In the Netherlands alone, a quarter of our population was somewhere else in Europe at the end of the war.
This shows that history doesn’t stop at national borders. And certainly not the history of the Second World War. Our past histories are tightly knit together.
I’m glad that we now not only share pages of the same history book. But that we share access to the archives in our different countries too.
EHRI has already helped scientists in - for example - France and Germany to work together. I’m delighted that teachers, journalists,
and even school children will no longer have any physical restrictions to viewing the archives all over Europe.
That wasn’t the case just after the war. Then, all there was left, was chaos.
For the survivors of the war, the way home must have been a desperate undertaking. As was their search for family and friends. The lists of the Red Cross played a role here. And so did coincidence.
Take the story of the Dutch woman Beppie Bosboom. She was only 13 when the war broke out. She was the youngest daughter in a family of nine children. Because she was a Jewish girl, her life changed dramatically after 1940. Imagine:
She couldn’t go to school with her friends anymore.
Couldn’t play in the park.
And eventually, she couldn’t go home, but was told to step on a train to God knows where
She ended up in camp Vught, was transported from there to Auschwitz. After that she was forced to join one of the death marches to Ravensbrück.
As a miracle, she survived all that.
When she arrived back at Amsterdam’s Central Station, she was no child anymore, but a grown woman. A women who weighed only 32 kilos. A woman who was still in the clothes she was forced to wear in the concentration camp.
Amazingly, when Beppie arrived at Amsterdam’s Central Station, she ran into someone who knew her older sister, who turned up to be still alive. The only remaining member of the family, Beppie later learned.
It was coincidence that told her who was still alive. On the Red Cross lists, the names were written of those she would never see again.
As co-workers of Holocaust centers, you all know the stories like that of Beppie Bosboom.
You know the stories of the survivors.
And you know the stories of the political prisoners.
Of the Jews, the Roma, the Sinti and the homosexuals, who were murdered in the war. You know the value of their story and the value of their names. You know the value of your archives.
This year, it is seventy years since peace was restored in Europe. Never again, we promised each other.
And to keep that promise, every year we stand in silence to remember the Second World War. We remember the victims. We listen to the stories of the survivors. We watch Schindler’s list, movies about Anne Frank, and documentaries about the war. Dutch television recently broadcast an impressive theme evening about the hunger winter.
We listen to the stories of our parents, our grandparents. And good teachers allow their students to experience what happens when you give free rein to hate.
One of these good teachers is the Frenchwoman Patricia Oreste. At her mainly colored school in Bobigny, near Paris, she asked several survivors of the holocaust to speak. A few women described their lives in hiding.
Stimulated by the Middle Eastern conflict, anti-Semitism is widespread at Patricia’s school. But the small boys in her classroom listened with tears in their eyes to the women who had been forced to hide for the Nazis.
Unfortunately, such storytellers – the immediate witnesses – are few and far between. Most people who consciously experienced the World War II are very old or have died. Most of the stories told today are related by the victim’s children or even their grandchildren.
They too look for facts in your archives. For information that can tell them more about what happened to their family.
Like the 34 year-old Dutch author Anne-Marieke Samson. Now that most archives are accessible, she is trying to find out what happened to her Jewish great grandfather from Germany.
In the run-up to World War Two, he put his daughter, Samson’s grandmother, on the train to the Netherlands.
Her great grandfather, however, tried to avoid fate legally.
He worked as a doctor in the Jewish Hospital in Cologne. But when there were no more Jews to treat, he was sent away.
It’s not exactly known if he actually was transported to Theresienstadt or if he committed suicide beforehand.
Strangely enough, there is documentation to defend both events.
Samson’s grandmother was desperate to find out what had happened during her father’s final days. In an earlier search, however, she had come across archives that were not yet accessible. Even today, there is no clarity about the fate of Cologne’s last Jewish doctor.
For her family, and for a novel she wants to write, Samson is trying again to discover her great grandfather’s final moments. But it’s not easy. As a layman, she doesn’t have direct access to the archives. She depends on other people to look for her.
Sometimes she visits researchers abroad to dredge up information. And sometimes she gets lucky, and she finds a piece of the puzzle she’s trying to solve.
But time is of the essence and often she has to rely on mail and the goodwill of others who search for her. It sometimes takes months before she gets an answer to a question, that more often than not turns out not to be the whole answer.
Samson shows the importance of your archives and the free access to them. And they are becoming more and more important every day. It shows how significant it is that you have taken the step to Open Data.
That step isn’t just meaningful for writers. It not only important that they can tell their stories. Perhaps more urgent is that you help get these stories out into the world. That you encourage people to listen to the stories your archives tell. And that you ask society to tell stories too.
At a time when relationships in the world are coming under pressure, those images and those stories are the key to better understanding. And stories are more than just dry facts. Ultimately, it’s not just the faces and the names we remember, but above all the stories behind them.
Each of our countries has to deal with discrimination on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender and background.
But whether people are Muslim, Jew, lesbian, man, woman or transgender… Never again may this be a reason to judge them.
I have faith in the power of knowledge.
I have faith that understanding not only breeds tolerance. It also works against discrimination. Against hate.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Make sure that not only the stories of Beppie Bosboom continue to be told. That not only Anne-Marieke Samson can tell the story of her great grandfather. But also continue to give a face to the people who can no longer tell their stories.
Do that by opening up your archives.
By producing exhibitions.
And by thinking up new ways to tell your stories to people who haven’t yet heard them.
Because with the faces and stories you represent, you have the antidote to hate.
So that in future, we can say that we did everything we could to fulfill our promise: Never Again.
And that we even may have been successful.