Holocaust Remembrance

The Holocaust is not only a historical fact to remember but also a lesson and a warning for future generations. Remembrance is a duty imposed on us by our human, moral imperative. AJC works tirelessly to ensure the Holocaust is remembered in honesty. We believe the best way to honour the victims is to make sure the living is not victimized, and no human being suffers from oppression or discrimination.

“The Holocaust was the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators.”

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia

How the Holocaust affected Central and Eastern Europe

Central and Eastern Europe were more affected by the Nazi death machine than anywhere else. It was here that the German civilian and SS administration established hundreds of ghettoes (600 on the territory of pre-war Poland alone) and annihilated no less than 80 percent of the local Jewish population. Many of these communities tried to rebuild their lives after 1945, which was extremely difficult under communist regimes. When communism collapsed after 1989, Jewish life could again flourish.

AJC CE delegation at an event commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Egils Levits, President of the Republic of Latvia. Commemoration Day of Genocide against the Jews in Latvia.

Holocaust survivors are particularly respected members in our communities and receive special care. However, in some Central European countries, many Holocaust survivors and their descendants have not been able to have their property returned or be properly compensated. Jewish communal property restitution is a challenging process that many communities do not find effective. AJC works with governments and advocates for just solutions to the question of private and communal property restitution.

Denial and distortion

Although outright Holocaust denial is rare in Central Europe, instances of Holocaust distortion abound. Most Central European countries and their societies are still struggling with painful chapters in their past. Individual and institutional collaboration, participation in mass killings, pogroms, acts of denunciation, blackmail, and murdering of Jews in hiding are all difficult to confront. As elsewhere, righteous gentiles are very often the protagonists of collective memory and a popular topic of Holocaust scholarship and education. Such figures should be remembered and honored but there is a growing tendency to universalize saving Jews while acts of hatred and betrayal are increasingly questioned, explained away, or ignored. Some Central Europe governments have spread narratives that present their societies only as victims and heroes of WWII rather than let historians work to establish facts.

“The Eleventh Commandment reads: ‘Don’t be Indifferent’ “

– Marian Turski, Auschwitz survivor, Polish journalist and historian

One of the important aspects of our work in Central Europe is to accompany societies and governments as they grapple with their often painful wartime legacies. We believe that honest remembrance of the Holocaust is a responsibility that is just as important as teaching future generations of the deadly consequences of hatred and violence. All of the countries that AJC Central Europe covers are members of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an organization that in 2013 adopted a Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion. The definitions reads as follows:

IHRA Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

The present definition is an expression of the awareness that Holocaust denial and distortion have to be challenged and denounced nationally and internationally and need examination at a global level. IHRA hereby adopts the following legally non-binding working definition as its working tool.

Holocaust denial is discourse and propaganda that deny the historical reality and the extent of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II, known as the Holocaust or the Shoah. Holocaust denial refers specifically to any attempt to claim that the Holocaust/Shoah did not take place.

Holocaust denial may include publicly denying or calling into doubt the use of principal mechanisms of destruction (such as gas chambers, mass shooting, starvation and torture) or the intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people.

Holocaust denial in its various forms is an expression of antisemitism. The attempt to deny the genocide of the Jews is an effort to exonerate National Socialism and antisemitism from guilt or responsibility in the genocide of the Jewish people. Forms of Holocaust denial also include blaming the Jews for either exaggerating or creating the Shoah for political or financial gain as if the Shoah itself was the result of a conspiracy plotted by the Jews. In this, the goal is to make the Jews culpable and antisemitism once again legitimate.

The goals of Holocaust denial often are the rehabilitation of an explicit antisemitism and the promotion of political ideologies and conditions suitable for the advent of the very type of event it denies.

Distortion of the Holocaust refers, inter alia, to:

  1. Intentional efforts to excuse or minimize the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany;
  2. Gross minimization of the number of the victims of the Holocaust in contradiction to reliable sources;
  3. Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide;
  4. Statements that cast the Holocaust as a positive historical event. Those statements are not Holocaust denial but are closely connected to it as a radical form of antisemitism.  They may suggest that the Holocaust did not go far enough in accomplishing its goal of “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question”;
  5. Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups.