June 15th, 2010
09:05 AM ET

Israel's Holocaust museum grapples with Holocaust diminishment

CNN's Izzy Lemberg sent this report on a major Holocaust conference in Jerusalem:

Yad Vashem, Israel’s main museum and research facility for preserving the memory of the Holocaust–including concentration camps like Auschwitz, above–devoted much of its annual conference on Monday to grappling with the challenges of Holocaust denial and diminishment.

“The time is moving ahead and on the one hand we are losing many of the survivors who are the driving force of many of the activities," Avner Shalev, the museum's chairman, told CNN. "But we have to look at the future with the absence of survivors."

"What is important is the context in which the teaching of the Holocaust is taking place: new anti-Semitism, new phenomenon of revisionism, trying to bring new different narratives to the Shoah (Holocaust) and all kinds of twisted comparisons," Shalev said. "This is the context that the teachers are struggling with right now.”

The conference drew 200 educators from 40 countries, along with philosophers, historians, human rights activists, politicians, ambassadors, and directors of various government ministries.

In one conference workshop, participants concluded that outright Holocaust denial is less of a serious threat because it is mostly confined to the extremist fringe and is not acceptable in polite society.

What worried the educators more are new attempts at what they called “diminishing the Holocaust" or “Holocaust inversion.” These refer to anti-Israel activists ascribing Nazi symbols like the swastika to Israel’s army and comparing the siege of Gaza to Auschwitz.

Israel’s Minister of Education Gideon Saar drew a line between current criticisms of Israel and anti-Semitism.

Other scholars expressed concern that the world was not applying the "never again" refrain that grew out of the Holocaust.

"The fact is that incitement to genocide is continuing," said Yehuda Bauer, considered Israel’s foremost Holocaust historian. "Things not the same, but in a way similar things are happening in Darfur, Congo and elsewhere."

Alain Finkielkraut, a prominent French philosopher, keynoted the event, arguing that “Post-Nazi Europe knows that neither culture nor progress is a safeguard against ferocity."

"It knows that modernity does not necessarily overcome cruelty," he said of Europe, "and that the most egregious evil is produced by a combination of unleashed violence and methodical, sophisticated and civilized coldness."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Holocaust • Israel • Judaism

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soundoff (170 Responses)
  1. Friedrich Paul Berg

    The Nazis and SS shared their food, medicine and much more with the Jews—even until the very last days of the war! The misery and deaths of thousands in many of the camps at the end of the war were the Allies' own doing. Mass starvartion of Germany had been one of the principal objects of British, and later American, strategy from the beginning—and amazingly, Jews died as well. The victors have nothing to be proud of. If Americans really care about finding “mass murderers,” they should look at themselves in the mirror. Ultimately, all that holocaust propaganda and “scholarship” really proves is that when Hitler tried to expel Jews from Germany forever, he certainly had the right idea. The Jews were the ultimate victors of World War 2—but even more stunning is the fact that they also succeeded in portraying themselves as the greatest victims who ever existed..

    June 16, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
    • Stefan Banaszak

      My family is of German and Polish descent and I'm appallled at your "belief" that the Nazis were any kind of "Good Guy". They were thieves, liars, and murderers of an unprecedented level. People forget that Poland was occuppied by the Germans for several decades prior to WWI and were more than happy to put their boots to our throats again in WWII. They murdered thousands upon thousands of Poles because they were "slavic" or Jewish or college-educated or resistors, or military, etc., just because they could..... They wanted Poland's vast resources and land for their own... God help you if you were a German civilian who saw through the lies... You were pulled out of your house at all hours of the day and if not shot in front of your family and neighbors, you disappeared, never to be see again.
      My grandfather helped to liberate some of the camps in Germany and to his dying day could not stand to describe the horrors he and his fellow Allied soldiers saw in those camps....

      June 18, 2010 at 1:09 am |
    • Brandt Ziegler

      It's funny how the Nazis wanted to "expel" the Jews and then had a sudden change of heart and began "feeding" them in their camps. To their German Shepherds? Nazis are simply one example of how depraved humanity can get and how sheep-like people are to follow someone like Hitler. We all have the potential for great evil. We all need redemption. Denying that fact in your arrogance simply perpetuates the problem. Ziegler can be both a German or a Jewish name. I don't know my background but I would certainly be proud to find out the latter. If so, we have people like you to thank for "feeding us" – to your gas chambers. And if I am German then all I gotta say is again, we all need redemption.

      June 19, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  2. it will happen again guaranteed

    800000 to 1000000 rwandans were slaughtered in 100 days in 1994 while President Clinton stood by and watched.

    A holocaust did happen again, and they will continue to happen again.

    Humans have no limit to the cruelty they can inflict on each other.

    June 16, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
    • Gary

      correct and usually in the name of RELIGION.

      June 17, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  3. windrider

    Part of the reason is the fact that Israel hides behind the Holocaust to justify all the slaughter of the Palestinians and the theft of their land. Time and time and time again. Gaza is an open air concentration camp without ovens, but the last Israeli assault destroyed 12,000 homes plus nearly all businesses, schools and hospitals; then denied the Gazans any building materials to rebuilt what the Jews had destroyed. The Jews killed 1400 Palestinians to avenge the deaths of 3 Jews. Even the Nazis only killed 10 for 1.

    The Holocaust loses its horrific meaning when the descendants of survivors begin to act like Nazis in their occupation and persecution of another people. That Israel is not systematically murdering Palestinians in gas and cremation ovens does not diminish the horror of occupation for decades inflicted on the Palestinians who are only trying to defend their homes, their families, and their lands.

    June 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
    • Wendy

      Windrider: I don't have a problem with you excoriating the Israelis for their treatment of the Palestinians and I think that one can question whether Israel should have ever been created. However, once it was an established state, the Arab countries and the Palestinians have continued to denounce Israel and many do not accept its existence and have waged war and terrorist attacks against the country. I really do not think that the German Jews, even the Jews in most of Europe, were questioning the right of their homeland to exist. Nor were they physically attacking people.

      Yet another example of a Nazi analogy that doesn't work very well.

      June 17, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  4. badgerbreath

    @ bluenote. While your point has merit in delineating a key difference between civilian Jews and Soviet soldiers you cannot assume that those 20 million Soviets soldiers were there willingly in the sense perhaps British, Canadian or Americans were. In fact it is a point of history that those men had no choice whatsoever, do you really think they had "conscientious objectors?". It is also a historical fact that Soviet soldiers were in many cases treated in a most egregious manner by their own commanders. This is of course explained away by the desperation of certain situations (ie. Stalingrad). Yet it remains a fact that there were many cases where Soviet men were forced at gunpoint to charge unarmed, and if they attempted to retreat they were gundowned.

    Not such a simple comparison now is it eh?

    June 16, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  5. Brace

    Karpo Darpo:
    Six Million targeted and systematically murdered is six million too many; would you not agree?

    All who assert that any criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism:
    I understand that to nearly every person who identifies as Jewish, Israel invokes strong emotions; all the same, you might want to admit some nuance to your views. I completely abhor Israel's tactics against civilians (white phosphorus use, for one), but I also find Hamas' tactics disgusting because they, too, specifically target civilians with terror tactics. Really there is no "right" here, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians need states. I look to Israel to provide the leadership necessary to affect positive change in the region, because the Palestinians will not be able to accomplish such change without Israel's help.

    June 16, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
    • Karpo Darpo

      I never said 6 million jews were killed. From the evidence I have seen, it's only 500,000 – 1 million jews killed. And yes, I agree with you - yes, that's too many. But the Russians and Chinese were killed in much larger numbers. Perhaps not as systematically, but what difference does that make? Dead is dead, systematic or not.

      June 19, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  6. Toni

    Estimates report that 15 Million people died in the camps/Holocaust. I grow weary of trying unbrainwash you imbiciles. Please note I did not say 9 Million. I include Jews in the numbers. We are all human. Catholic clergy was the first target of the Nazis when they invaded Poland. But, due to intolerance and bigoty, no is upset by this. Also, look at the way Catholics (Irish particulary) were treated when the arrived in the US. Not much has changed. Catholics are trying the oppressed

    June 16, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  7. OmegaMann

    “The time is moving ahead and on the one hand we are losing many of the survivors who are the driving force of many of the activities," Avner Shalev, the museum's chairman, told CNN

    Gee, the Germans weren't very efficient if there are so many survivors popping up everywhere all the time. Funny that... you'd think if someone wanted to exterminate all of them they wouldn't send them around to different camps and leave them for the allies to liberate... seems like CNN has a new story every week about a survivor who was rescued by wolves or something...

    June 16, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
    • Wendy

      In large measure, the Germans were in denial about the fact that defeat was so near. When it became obvious to them, survivors were marched out of some of the camps by their captors. Many died on these marches who might otherwise have lived. In addition, if the Germans hadn't been in denial, had accepted the fact that they were about to lose, I've no doubt that the leaders would have given the signal to kill the survivors. You must recognzie, though, that the gas chambers could only hold so many people at a time and many of those chambers were working full-time up until close to the end of the war.

      June 17, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  8. Karpo Darpo

    Somewhere between 60 and 70 million people died during WWII.
    Soviet deaths were around 25 million.
    Chinese deaths were between 15 and 22 million.
    Germany lost 4 millions soldiers and 2 million civilians.
    When you put it in it's proper context, a few million jews wasn't so many.

    June 16, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  9. Suz

    I can't even believe people are arguing about this. It's important to teach about the Holocaust so that people know how important it is to fight that kind of genocide – which, astonishingly, is still happening today all around the world. It's just plain wrong for any one group of people to summarily try to wipe another group off the face of the earth.

    June 16, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  10. gingles

    Think not just of the number 6 million. The fact is that 80 PERCENT OF ALL JEWS in occupied Europe were murdered!

    Eight out of every ten Jews. That is beyond sobering and absolutely astounding. An entire culture was nearly erased and whole family trees were.

    June 16, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Toni

      same occurred in Ireland. Cambodia. Africa. China. The US. The Armenians – Turks killed about 1.2M of them. So why does this get so much attention? Seems like an intrenched sense of victimhood. Once you have this you can get away with anything. I guess you have to have good PR

      June 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
    • Wendy

      Good points. There have been other genocides which should be recognized. However, many of the ones cited were not based on hatred of a people or anything else that could be considered genetic. Pol Pot's rule in Cambodia was horrific and should be remembered. Stalin's purges were terrible but not primarily genocidal (although he didn't much like Jews either), etc., etc. With the Irish, a large proportion was due to religion (a cause of much murder). Murder is murder but even in our legal system, there are different degrees and motives can make a difference.

      June 17, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • jack h

      i think most of europe's jews came to america. thru jewish greed, the united states will be destroyed.

      June 19, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
  11. Mark L.

    I am second generation to two Holocaust Survivors. My late Mother, may she forever rest in everlasting, eternal, heavenly peace, survived the atrocities @ Stutthof in northwestern Poland, and my Father survived both the Skarzysko Kamienna forced labor and Buchenwald concentration camps. Also, my late Uncle survived Kaufering (Dachau). Sadly, for some, the Holocaust is old news, but we, the Proud Jewish People, must ALWAYS REMEMBER and make ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN THIS DARK PERIOD IN OUR HISTORY IS NEVER FORGOTTEN AND WILL NEVER BE REPEATED !! To All those who deny the Holocaust – You are Nothing More Than a Bunch of IDIOTIC LOSERS !! In Most European Nations, including Germany, you can literally be arrested for denying the Holocaust !! What we need is more second generation to step up to the plate and share their family stories. I've shared my family stories / photos with both YAD VASHEM and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and am also proudly affiliated with both GREAT organizations as a contributing member.

    June 16, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • Don

      From a fellow Jew: Well said, Mark! "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

      June 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Miriam

      I am not Jewish but I love the Jewish people. We must pray for Israel and the peace of Jerusalem.
      As any of you know there are stirrings of hatred from other countries and we must pray for her and her safety and peace.
      I agree with your statement. Blessings.

      June 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
    • jack h

      thats right mark, in most countries in europe, esp germany, you can go to jail for holocaust denial. THAT PROVES THE POWER AND DANGER OF THE ZIONISTS/JEWS. they are and allways have been a threat to world peace and stability. thruout history they have caused countless wars only to finance and sell arms to both sides of any conflict. in bussiness matters jews only deal fairly with other jews. the jewish mafia has been around since before the building of the pyramids. they are behind the freemason. illuminatti, and the new world order.

      June 19, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  12. EZ

    Hearing about the holocost daily in some way, shape, or form has become old news. The situation is played on in multiple movies, plays, books, comics, etc. People are becomin gdsensitized to the problem, and that is only natural. Normal people look to move ON, pas the problems, not dwell in what cant be changed.

    It happened. It's history.

    June 16, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  13. Rick

    What an absolutely absurd statement? I would love to see one single example of any Jew, let alone a Zionist, claim that the Palestinian situation is in any way shape or form related to or justified by the holocaust. As one responder said, it's really only anti-Semites who make that claim. better watch it, your racism is showing.

    June 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  14. KH

    The holocaust was obviously evil, and cold and thoroughly planned. We need to remember that it could have been stopped sooner if people hearing the stories actually believed it. Instead they refused to accept that humans could be so cold. We need to remember to keep people from doing something like that again and keep in mind.. that yes humanity can be that cold.

    June 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  15. Jeff B.

    wrong, Cassarit-
    Israel "uses" the Shoah to justify her continued EXISTENCE, and, rightfully so.
    Political correctness does not allow "civilized" nations to be Anti Jew – so, they hide it by being more politically correct by saying "it's not JEWS we hate, just ISRAEL". HOW many times have we heard Israel criticized for calling itself the Jewish State, and no criticism for the 16 "Islamic" States which surround her ?

    June 16, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  16. Ian

    Regardless of which side of the argument you take, it must be remembered that the Holocaust was an attempt by a nation to completely exterminate an entire group of people from the face of the earth. No matter how horrific history has been towards the Russians, Chinese, Armenians, Palestinians, Africans, or any other group, class or race, the holocaust is unique in its conception and purpose. I do not trivialize the suffering of any oppressed group, but in the absence of the modern equivalent of extermination camps, gas chambers, or mass crematoria, attempts to compare the effects of political oppression with the Holocaust are disingenuous and spurious.

    June 16, 2010 at 11:32 am |
    • Itwasnot

      @Ian: "the holocaust is unique in its conception and purpose." Not a great study of history, are you? Google "Hmong" for one such example of an ethnic minority getting hunted almost to extermination. There are plenty of others. Ethnic cleansing happens often (but it's not as well publicized).

      June 17, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  17. Erky

    Criticism of Israel is not the same as anti antisemitism. There is a level of irony when Israel commits atrocities against civilians, and the situation they've created in Gaza is reminiscent of the Warsaw ghetto. Obviously their actions don't begin to compare with the Germans, but they must still be brought to light. No level of hypocrisy is acceptable.

    June 16, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Erked by Erky

      Hi Erky,
      When you criticize _only_ the _one_ jewish country and don't seem to notice the behaviour of the neighbors, well, what a shock when people realize you hate Jews. Stand up, and let your freak flag fly son. You sputtter, "I don't hate Jews", I just don't want them to have a home, country, security, or any of that jazz. I don't hate Jews, I just don't want them to have anything needed to survive. Besides, they are mean to the people who want to kill them all.

      June 16, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  18. anon

    No, Jon, the one's who need a "good old fashioned ass whipping" are the pedophile priests who target young boys. THAT is what ybs was talking about. Don't think for one minute that those priests aren't telling the boys that it is the love of God they are receiving when they do that. Ybs was only pointing out how mankind can and does twist any religion or doctrine to suit their agenda, and in the case of the holocaust, the hatred for many different groups of people is what was fed and inflated to justify the unjustifiable.

    Actually, with the Jews, the Nazi's mainly wanted to plunder their material goods and wealth. They STOLE from them. That was the main purpose, and their was nothing they wouldn't resort to doing.

    June 16, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  19. Wendy

    Killing of masses of people is abhorrent. The crimes that were committed by settlers in America against Native Americans (and by other settlers to other native populations) are inexcusable. What made the Holocaust different was that Jews and gays, for example, were a part of the general population. German Jews considered themselves German, often more German than Jewish; the same was probably true of German gays. These groups supported their country in World War I, for example. When the Germans conquered other countries, these same groups were treated differently than the general population. It was a hatred based on genetics (as it was understood at the time) - it cut short any potential of assimilation into the larger society. The other major difference was that the extermination was exceptionally systematic - first demean and demoralize, then enslave (work camps) and then kill.

    This doesn't/shouldn't give Jews a pass on mistreatment of Palestinians or any other groups but it does speak to the exceptionalism of the Holocaust and why it should never be forgotten - not because it was against Jews; but because of the unusual characteristics cited above.

    June 16, 2010 at 10:35 am |
    • Kurgen

      That's just it, the "Holocaust" is a purely Jewish product, it should never be forgotten because it was against the Jews. Never mind the native Americans, forget about the Armenians, and don't even mention Rwanda, just remember the Jewish Holocaust because that's the one that has a National Day and a powerful political lobby. Unless you want then to brand you as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier and get sent to the concentration camps of Palestina.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  20. Adolfo Cabrera

    We need to look at the present, Isael was givne a piece on land, and it is their country. The holocaust shows how deep into darkness we can go, it needs to be remembered as any other atrocities.

    June 16, 2010 at 10:25 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.