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Our Archivist’s Perspective: Cataloguing And Developing The Archive

My name is Hari Jonkers, I have been the Archivist at Holocaust Centre North since September 2021. Over the past year I have been leading on Homeward Bound, one of Holocaust Centre North’s flagship projects.

What is Homeward Bound?

“Homeward Bound” is a bold and ambitious three-year endeavour, running from 2023 to 2025, with the objective of cataloguing, digitising, and enlarging the scope of the Holocaust Centre North Archive. Our aim by the project’s end is a 50% increase in the collection of personal papers—those profoundly personal and irreplaceable testimonies, documents, photographs, mementoes, and other ephemera contributed by Holocaust survivors and their families, which are at the heart of our Archive.

With the project’s first year almost complete, we’re excited to share more details about the work our Collections team have completed and update you on the progress we’ve made.

Cataloguing

My focus for 2023 has been creating the first catalogue of our collections. Cataloguing is the bedrock of looking after an archive. It is the process of organising, researching and describing collections in order to create a written map for users to explore the compelling stories and items we hold.

So far, I have catalogued around 70 sets of personal papers of Holocaust survivors and refugees who rebuilt their lives in the North of England. This process has revealed the breadth and significance of the material in our collections and already benefitted all strands of our work.

One of the most exciting outcomes from my personal perspective, has been how cataloguing has enabled us to strengthen our existing relationships within the Northern community of Holocaust survivors and their descendants and to seek out and develop new relationships, which in turn helps to grow our Archive further.

For instance, recently one of our fantastic volunteers, Shoshanah, transcribed and translated two wartime booklets of poetry and songs created collectively by the self-styled ‘Leeds Clique’ – a group of men who were interned by the British in Canada as ‘enemy aliens’. These were kept for decades by one of the men, Ernest Millet (pictured below), before being donated to us.

Ernest’s personal papers.
Courtesy of R. Millet & family

The material richly and humorously illustrates the men’s daily lives in Canada and is testament to the strengths of the bonds they created. I recognised some of the names from other personal papers we hold and set about researching the others. Within a few days I was able to identify and get in touch with several second and third generation descendants in the UK, USA and Canada. We’re now arranging to interview some of these relatives, enriching our collection of intergenerational testimonies.

The first catalogue will be available via our website from April 2024.

‘Any Little Lane’, words by Hans Jacob, music by Clemence Kalisher. Courtesy of R. Millet & family

Digitisation

Our focus for 2024-2025 will be to digitise the collections. Digitisation, the meticulous process of converting physical materials into digital form through scanning or photography, stands as a cornerstone of our preservation efforts. It is a delicate and precise operation, designed not only to safeguard our collections for posterity but also to vastly enhance their reach and usability.

Preparing one of Iby Knill’s textile creations for digitisation.
Courtesy of the family of Iby Knill – Chris Knill and Pauline Kinch

Can you help us?

We hope that this blog post was useful to you. We are ambitious, creative and committed to continue writing articles like this, but our work relies on donations from generous and dedicated people like you.