International Memorials Charter

The International Memorial Museums Charter was drawn up in 2011 by the International Committee for Memorial Museums for Public Crimes (IC MEMO/ICOM) and the International Task Force for Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (from 2012 IHRA - International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) and was approved and accepted by more than 30 by member states. Central principles of memorial work are formulated in the charter. This includes conveying information in empathy with the victims of crimes, as well as addressing the perpetrators. The creation of a pluralistic culture of remembrance as well as the scholarly basis of the historical representation in the memorial museums are emphasised.

The text of the charter verbatim:

1. A joint culture of remembrance cannot and must not be dictated by decree. Given the very different historical experiences, memorial museums should accept the co-existence of different commemorative imperatives that are aimed at pluralistic cultures of remembrance. Institutions should be designed for cooperation instead of encouraging competition which can create a struggle for dominance. Should this be a practical venture, a joint culture of remembrance could develop gradually out of a multitude of decentralised initiatives.

2. A pluralistic culture of remembrance also requires a shared set of positive values. These already exist in the universal declaration of human and civil rights.

3. Memorial museums as contemporary history museums are involved mostly in remembering public crimes committed against minorities. This is why current states, governments, and local communities bear a great responsibility to memorial museums and should safeguard their collections and assure them the highest degree of independence from political directives. At the same time the memorial museums have to anchor themselves broadly within civil society and make a special effort to integrate

minorities.

4. Modern memorial museums are contemporary history museums with a special obligation to humanitarian and civic education. The memorial museums will only be able to assert themselves against political interests and lobbyists if they have achieved a high level of quality work, infrastructure, and personal organisation.

5. Fundamental decisions in the memorial museums concerning content, education and design should be made mostly on the basis of an open, non-hierarchical pluralistic discussion with survivors, scholars, educators, lobbyists, and committed social groups. The work of memorial museums is principally science based. State-run institutions and private sponsors have to accept this.

6. Information conveyed in exhibitions, publications and educational projects about historical events should evoke empathy with the victims as individual humans and groups which were specifically targeted for persecution. Interpretation should avoid commemoration in the form of revenge, hate and resentments between different groups of victims.

7. Historical experiences have to be integrated into historical contexts without minimising the personal suffering of individuals. The integration of historical events should take place on the level of modern contemporary historical research and honour the scholarly principles of discourse and multiple perspectives.

8. The perspective of the perpetrators who committed the crimes has to be addressed. The perpetrators should not be demonised, but rather their ideology, aims and motives should be used to explain their actions. This includes the institutional and social mechanism as well as the individual biographies of perpetrators. The ability to question one’s own perspective also takes into account the inclusion of one’s own crimes and self-images into the presentation of the “other.” The broad and very diverse group of bystanders should be handled in the same manner.

9. Memorial museums located at historically authentic sites where crimes were committed provide an immense opportunity for conducting historical and civic education, but there are also big risks involved. This is why memorial museums need to orient their educational work less towards an agreement about the content and more towards universal principles. These demand that the visitors are not overwhelmed or indoctrinated, that the subjective view of individuals be respected, and that controversial subjects be treated as controversial.

10. Memorial museums as contemporary history museums are always engaged in self-criticism of their own history and have to embed it in a history of their respective remembrance culture. Cognizant of current trends of thinking, they should gear their presentations towards current interpretations of the past, while being anchored to the actual historical events.

Introduction

Memorial museums have a responsibility of protecting the dignity of victims from all forms of exploitation. They must also ensure that, beyond the traditional teaching of history, the interpretation of political events encourages critical and independent reflection about the past. Therefore, the time has come for memorial museums, as a unique form of contemporary historical museums, establish a basis for their cooperation on a national and international level.

The organisational framework for an international consortium has already been established: The Task Force for International Cooperation in Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research is responsible for supporting institutions that commemorate victims of the Nazis and for the preservation of historical sites, sources, and artifacts in the spirit and purpose of the Stockholm Declaration.

As a result of its incorporation into the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and recognition of the universal ethical and political principles of the UN Charter, the International Committee of Memorial Museums (IC MEMO) is tasked with promoting universal human and civil rights and helping to preserve cultural assets. The IC MEMO acts as an umbrella organisation for many different memorials dedicated to the victims of state tyranny in Europe, Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

The Charter

This is an international memorial museums charter based on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ethical principles of the ICOM. The general principles of commemoration in memorial sites are as follows:

A common culture of remembrance cannot and must not be forced by decree. In view of the vastly different historical experiences, memorial museums should accept the coexistence of different commemorative needs that aim to create pluralistic cultures of commemoration. Institutions should be designed to work together rather than encourage competition, which can degenerate into a struggle for superiority. If this venture succeeds, a common culture of remembrance would be able to gradually emerge from a multitude of decentralised initiatives.

A pluralistic culture of remembrance also requires a common set of positive values. These already exist in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As contemporary history museums, modern memorial museums are primarily concerned with the remembrance of crimes against minorities. For this reason, states, governments, and communities have a great responsibility for preserving memorial sites, protecting their collections, and ensuring that they enjoy the greatest possible independence from political directives. At the same time, memorial museums must be firmly anchored in civil society and strive to integrate minorities.

Modern memorial museums are museums of contemporary history that have a special obligation to provide humanitarian and civic education. Memorial museums will only be able to assert themselves against certain political interests and lobbyists if they succeed in raising the quality of their work, infrastructure, and personnel organisation to a high level.

Fundamental decisions in memorial museums regarding content, education, and design should be made primarily on the basis of an open, non-hierarchical, pluralistic exchange with survivors, scholars, educators, lobbyists, and committed social groups. The work of memorial museums has a predominantly academic character. State institutions and private donors must accept this.

Information imparted in exhibitions, publications, and educational projects related to historical events should inspire compassion for the victims, as individuals and as groups, who were targeted as particular victims of persecution. When interpreting information, commemoration in the form of revenge, hatred, and resentment between different groups of victims should be avoided.

Historical experiences must be integrated into historical contexts without diminishing the personal suffering of individual victims. The integration of historical events should be based on modern contemporary historical research, while recognising the academic principles of discourse and multiple perspectives.

The perspective of the perpetrators who committed the crime also needs to be addressed. The perpetrators must not be demonised; instead, their ideology, goals, and motives should be used to explain their actions. This includes the institutional and social order as well as the perpetrators’ respective biographies. The ability to question one’s own perspective also involves incorporating one’s crimes and self-images into the representation of the “other”. The large and very diverse group of followers should be treated likewise.

Memorial museums in authentic historical locations where crimes were committed offer great opportunities for educating visitors about history and community. Nonetheless, there are also great risks involved in doing this. It is therefore necessary for memorial museums to base their educational work less on a convention of content and more on universal principles. This approach requires visitors  to be neither overwhelmed nor indoctrinated. Furthermore, the subjective view of individuals must be respected, and controversial issues must also be discussed controversially.

As museums of contemporary history, memorial museums always look critically at their own history and have to embed this in a history of the respective culture of remembrance. With knowledge of current schools of thought, they should base their presentations on current interpretations of the past while also anchoring them in current historical events.