Holocaust education is a centerpiece of remembrance and, one would hope, a prevention of the repetition of genocide. There are, however, strong indications that in today’s Western world Shoah distortion also creates a major impact. Many think of Holocaust denial in this context. Far more frequent however, is another extremely dangerous distortion of the Shoah’s memory, the inversion of the Holocaust – that is, considering Jews and in particular Israelis as Nazis.
This perception has now become a mainstream view in both Western and Eastern Europe. A recent study in several countries by the University of Bielefeld on behalf of the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation shows its permeation into European societies. The study found that 63% of Poles think that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians. The lowest figures in the study are from the Italians and the Dutch respectively, with 38% and 39%.
In Hungary, Great Britain, Germany and Portugal, between 40% and 50% think this. The study shows that, almost unnoticed, a new Europe with a widespread criminal worldview has emerged.
Some subjects concerning the Holocaust come to the fore every year. One is the way Pope Pius XII’s wartime history is remembered. There are continuous Catholic efforts to embellish it. In November 2010, Italian Jewish leaders sharply criticized a documentary that showed how Pope Pius XII made a major effort to save the Jews of Rome during the Holocaust. Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, called the mini-series “junk.”
In December, The Guardian revealed that the Vatican had wanted to join the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (ITF). However, a US diplomatic cable from October 200 said the Vatican had backed out of it - perhaps due to its desire to avoid declassifying records from the war during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII.
Another regularly returning issue concerns the memory of Anne Frank. In August, 2010 the chestnut tree that Anne had seen from her hiding place in the heart of Amsterdam was felled during a storm. This story became one of the most publicized issues concerning the Holocaust in the past year. Hundreds of media from all over the world showed photos of the fallen tree, or reported on it. Saplings were taken to be planted in the US, Israel and other countries so that the tree would live on. It was announced that blocks of the fallen tree would be placed in museums in various countries.
There was more “news” related to Anne Frank. Earlier this month a new book revealed that Karl Joseph Silberbauer, the Austrian SS officer who arrested the Frank family, was one of hundreds of Nazis employed by the German post-war intelligence service.
The diversity of “Holocaust issues” is great. One that was widely reported was of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi telling youths at a rally a joke whereby Adolf Hitler was asked by his supporters to take power again after they discovered that he was still alive. Hitler answered, according to Berlusconi: “I’ll come back, but only on one condition – next time I’m going to be evil.” On his birthday a month later, Berlusconi told another joke, making fun of a Jew hiding another Jew during the Holocaust.
The idea of Holocaust equivalence, i.e., that some people currently behave like Nazis, also comes up regularly. In September 2010, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused France of carrying out a “racial holocaust” against the Roma, of which 1,000 had been expelled from the country in the preceding weeks. Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, considered the French treatment of Roma as a disgrace that reminded her of the Second World War roundups of gypsies and Jews.
At the same time, the commemoration of the Shoah also gets new impetus. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno announced the creation of the first Italian Shoah Museum. It will open in 2013 in Rome. Athens was the last European capital to establish a Holocaust memorial. And in March, Israel and UNESCO signed an agreement to promote Holocaust education and to fight its denial.
The battle for maintaining a correct memory of the Holocaust and the fighting of distortions will become more difficult as the last generation of survivors passes away. This battle has to consist of many actions. They include, besides Holocaust education, the continual recording of survivors’ testimonies, activities by the second generation of survivors, public debate, research, activities in museums, remembrance ceremonies, legislation and many more such efforts.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has published 19 books, including The Abuse of Holocaust Memory: Distortions and Responses
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