The Holocaust in Public Discourse. Use and Abuse

Budapest, Hungary

Venue: Eötvös Loránd University, Ceremonial Hall, 1053 Budapest, Egyetem tér 1-3
Program: Conference Flyer


Mark Weitzman, Chair of IHRA’s Committee on Holocaust Denial and Distortion, commented: “From the eruption of violent antisemitism in Europe to the current refugee crisis, the Holocaust has been used in a variety of ways to shape and impact our world. This conference is the first to focus on the Holocaust in public discourse examining how the Holocaust is used and misued in multiple platforms.“

In response to the explosion of antisemitism and Holocaust distortion in recent months, this conference aims to bring together politicians, diplomats, journalists, intellectuals, NGO representatives and academics on a wide range of subjects to foster international exchange and to develop best practices on the emerging topic of Holocaust related language. IHRA expects an international audience with registered participants from more than 25 countries. Following the conference, videos of all sessions will be uploaded to the IHRA youtube channel. (Youtube: IHRANews)

The conference consists of four panels and several keynote speeches comprising experts from a variety of professional background on the topics of print, popular media, digital media and political discourse. Main issues that will be addressed include the need to ensure an accurate representation of the Holocaust; ways in which overuse of the word Holocaust can minimize respect for the genocide of the Jewish people during the Second World War; how willed and unconscious distortion of Holocaust history invites and reflects antisemitism; and how informed discourse on the Holocaust can help societies address contemporary problems, including democratic development, social unrest, freedom of speech and media, and challenges to multiculturalism, among others. All panels will be moderated by IHRA delegates. 

Conference Programme

The IHRA Chair, Szabolcs Takács, will open the conference, followed by remarks from the spokesperson of the Hungarian Government, Zoltán Kovács, and the Committee on Holocaust Denial and Distortion Chair, Mark Weitzman.

Panel 1, moderated by Juliane Wetzel, senior researcher at Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University in Germany, will focus on the misuse of the Holocaust in print media. The panel comprises Alison Smale (Berlin Bureau Chief, NY Times), Konstanty Gebert (Journalist of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland) and Miklós Haraszti (former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media) and focuses on the question of how the Holocaust is presented as an historical event and as a metaphor in contemporary usage.

Panel 2, moderated by Felicia Waldman, Professor at the Goldstein Goren Center for Hebrew Studies at the University of Bucharest in Romania, will focus on considerations of historical accuracy and of the possible impact of using the Holocaust in popular media. Speakers include Evelien Gans (Professor at the NIOD - Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands), András Kovács (Professor at the Central European University, Hungary), and Cristina Finch (Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Department).

In a lunchtime discussion, András Heisler (President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary) and Yehuda Bauer (Honorary Chairman of the IHRA) will deliver keynote speeches summarizing the core messages and most important arguments.

Panel 3, moderated by Alex Maws, Head of Education of the Holocaust Educational Trust in the United Kingdom, focuses on the use and misuse of the Holocaust in digital media and on the question of how electronic media has re-shaped Holocaust discourse. The panel comprises Rafal Pankowski (Professor Collegium Civitas, Associate Professor Collegium Civitas ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association, Poland), Andre Oboler (CEO, Online Hate Prevention Institute, Australia), and Joe Mulhall (Research and Intelligence Analyst at HOPE not hate, United Kingdom). Speakers will discuss the role that governments or NGOs can or should play, as well as their limits.

Panel 4, moderated by Robert Williams, Director of Development and New Initiatives at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in the United States, focuses on how Holocaust discourse in the political arena has evolved over the last decades, including questions on what are appropriate or inappropriate uses of the Holocaust and how governments and political leaders should respond to Holocaust denial and distortion. Speakers include Peter Kreko (Director, Political Capital Institute, Hungary), Rabbi Andrew Baker (Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism and Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee), and Boriss Cilevics (Member of Parliament, Latvia).

Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial

The conference is organized by IHRA’s Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, which was created to form a common approach to address the upsurge in antisemitism and Holocaust denial and trivialization. As the only intergovernmental body dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, the IHRA is uniquely positioned to devote attention to Holocaust denial and trivialization and effectively contribute to the struggle against antisemitism through political initiatives and cooperation with partner organizations. One of the Committee's key achievements was the development of the "Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion," which was adopted by the IHRA Plenary in October 2013.