IHRA from Berlin: New working definition enters final phase as Plenary condemns rehabilitation

On Thursday, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance successfully concluded its semiannual Plenary meetings of renowned experts, civil society, and government representatives. As a first for the IHRA, all the meetings including the decision-making Plenary Session were held entirely online as participants from more than 30 countries discussed the most pressing issues in the field of Holocaust remembrance, research, and education.

Berlin Plenary condemns rehabilitation of historical figures

Sending a strong message on the importance of truthful remembrance and research, the Berlin Plenary decided to issue an IHRA Statement on Rehabilitation. Responding to worrying tendencies in multiple countries, the statement warns of the dangers of rehabilitating historical figures complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma.

“At a time of multiple crises, when the facts of history are increasingly distorted, it is essential the IHRA take a clear stance when it comes to the rehabilitation of such problematic figures,” IHRA President Ambassador Michaela Küchler said. “This issue, which violates our common principles, affects countries involved in the IHRA and beyond.”

The IHRA Statement comes as a response to the recent rise in antisemitic attacks and attempts to distort the memory of the Holocaust. Dr. Robert Williams, Chair of the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, explained, “Our shared memories of the past are inherently flawed and malleable. To do justice to the loss of the Holocaust and to help affirm a better public and common understanding, our memories need good history built on facts and analysis because, at the end of the day, history always stands a better chance of proving that old British axiom: truth will out.”

In their attempts to confront a troublesome past, rehabilitation of historical figures is one of the difficult challenges facing countries grappling with the history of the Holocaust. Confronting this history and the thorny questions it raises, however, remains the only way forward.

“As a representative of a country that experienced three occupations and regained independence just decades ago, I know that dealing with the historic past is not easy,” said Latvian Head of Delegation Einars Mikelsons. “I see the tendency to rewrite the history of the Second World War for political reasons in some countries and I wholeheartedly support the adoption of the IHRA statement.”

The IHRA Statement on Rehabilitation is only the third statement issued by the Plenary in the history of the organization.

Global Task Force: Taking action on Holocaust denial and distortion

In his welcome address to delegates at the Berlin virtual Plenary, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas made clear the position of the German government on the 2020 IHRA Ministerial Declaration: “It is time to follow our words with deeds.”

As an answer to this call, the Global Task Force Against Holocaust Denial and Distortion remains central to the efforts of the German Presidency of the IHRA. Addressing the Berlin Plenary, Ambassador Karina Häuslmeier, Head of the German Delegation to the IHRA, explained that the goal of the Global Task Force is to identify, develop, and promote good practices on countering Holocaust distortion, and to bring together likeminded governmental and non-governmental bodies. Above all, she emphasized, political action is required.

An important task for the experts of the Global Task Force is therefore to identify what shape this political action should take. During her presentation to the Plenary, Dr. Juliane Wetzel, also of the German Delegation, discussed the issues raised by the Global Task Force during its meetings and workshops: How to go about monitoring and tracking Holocaust denial and distortion? How to address the problem in professional training and educational programs? And how to help museums and memorials counter denial and distortion when it is happening at their sites? Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the Global Task Force will seek to provide answers to all these questions.

Wondering what Holocaust distortion is and why it is a problem? Read more in our recent story.

New working definition of anti-Roma racism enters final phase

The pledge made by IHRA Member Countries in Article 4 of the 2020 IHRA Ministerial Declaration is unmistakable: “Remember the genocide of the Roma. We acknowledge with concern that the neglect of this genocide has contributed to the prejudice and discrimination that many Roma communities still experience today.”

In Berlin and online, the IHRA Plenary took another step towards meeting this commitment by moving closer to the adoption of a non-legally binding working definition of anti-Roma racism. Following three years of intense discussions among the foremost experts in the field, and after consultations with Roma representatives and communities, the work on the working definition is now entering its final phase. While non-legally binding, the working definition is intended to aid in the identification by government bodies of racism and discrimination, and to play a part in the training of law enforcement, educators, social workers, and others.

From day one of the German Presidency, the adoption of the working definition has been a top priority for Ambassador Küchler. The Covid-19 pandemic has only added to the urgency, and on Friday, the IHRA President stated her confidence in the adoption of a working definition before the second and final Plenary Session of the German Presidency.

IHRA delegates applaud new teaching and learning resource

The Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust are off to a flying start.

Launched at the last Plenary Session in Luxembourg City, the Recommendations are now available in English, Croatian, and German, while 15 more languages will be shared on the IHRA website by the end of the year. Even before the beginning of preparations for the new school year, the new Recommendations have been promoted at more than 50 events in over 19 countries – a number expected to rise significantly over the coming months.

As the progress of the Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust was presented during Plenary meetings, IHRA Member and Liasion Countries showed an immense amount of support for further promotion and translation. Many countries relayed the meaningful ways in which they have integrated the Recommendations into their national context, including teacher trainings, workshops, seminars, and conferences.

For an example of a national launch of the Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust, the symposium “Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust in the UK,” sponsored by the AJR in partnership with the UK Delegation to the IHRA, is now available online.

The final translation and dissemination results will be made available at the next IHRA Plenary, to be held in Leipzig in December.

Photo: For the first time in the history of the IHRA, the Plenary meetings took place entirely online. Credit: Florian Gaertner.