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. djn

    I love how the Palestinians are viewed as innocents. Does anyone remember the cheering in the streets of GAZA when the World trade center blew up. How soon we forget. Hamas is a terrorisitic org posing as humanitarians...we are dealing with animals here, and your evrage palestinian is brainwashed to beleive hamas can help. Look toother parts of the world for innoents, Like Africa.

    June 18, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • Iconoclast

      To the best of my knowledge, neither Hamas nor any Palestinians were involved with 9/11. As I recall it was primarily Saudi terrorists. As to the Palestinians dancing in the street on 9/11 I can well understand how they might feel (tragic as it was) in light of our blind carte blanc support of Israel over the many years. Whether you agree with them or not it is important to understand what your enemy's motivations might be and realize that hopelessness breeds desperation.

      June 18, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • Mr Data

      Palestinians are no different from Iranians or Saudis. Take the Shiah/Sunni argument and smoke it in a pipe. It's all from the same rotten, hate-filled book, and those people venerate it. I'll back Israel 100% if the option is the Muslim horde.

      June 19, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  2. JEC

    The Gaza comparison is not to Auschwitz but to the Warsaw Ghetto and the eventual uprising, celebrated by Jews as a turning point. I trust any open minded person with knowledge of history (a major limitation) sees the similarities between the Israeli encirclement and starvation of Gaza and the German encirclement and starvation of jews in Warsaw. It is a misstake to see the horrors of the holocaust limited to Jews.

    June 18, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  3. Alec

    Having grown up Jewish in the aftermath of the Holocaust, I know what a powerful, overwhelming event it was. But it's 65 years later. In other words, 65 years after the U.S. Civil War was 1930. People were, and are, still fighting the Civil War here. I don't want that. More than three generations of Europeans have been born since WW II ended. I want to evaluate people's actions by the present, not in relation to a massacre that's already fading. There is no Never Again. A new world, new fights, new lessons.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  4. Randy

    Hey Carl a soldier at least has gun in his hand. How would like someone to knock on your door and haul you and your family away to be experimented on, tortutred and eventually killed. You and people like you are the problem with the holocaust being diminished. You actually prove this story.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  5. nixliberals

    There will be no peace in Israel until Jesus comes back, clearly stated in the Old Testament that Joshua refusing to wipe out ALL of the infidels and all their animals these people would be a thorn in their sides. Make peace in the holy land and you'll be looking at the Anti-Christ who does it. And from there a worldwide war ending in Armageddon is the Peace that bastard will achieve. It is amazing so many people deny the Christian Truth, but it is more accurate than any of this pandering between those on either side.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
    • jack h

      i truely wish that jesus would return and change the people who are in power and who are destroying the people and the planet in the name of greed. i also pray that if jesus does return he never sets foot in israel because i'm sure they would crucify him again.

      June 20, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  6. Abd al-Latif

    What they're essentially saying is that we should have two sets of standards, one for Jews and one for everyone else. If you kill people, torture them, starve them, oppress them, kick them out of their homes, that's fine–as long as they are Muslims or Christians (yes, there are plenty of Arab Christians in Palestine and life for them is almost as bad as it is for the Muslims there). If they're Jews, then the "refrain" is indeed "never forget." But when it comes to Palestinians, what's there to forget? The Western world never noticed in the first place. If we try to point out the hypocrisy then the Jews and the American fundamentalist Christians say, "Oh, but Muslims DESERVE to be killed and oppressed, because you are inherently evil." Again, this is the same thing the Nazis said about the Jews. But that's different, see, because the Jews were the victims back then. Ultimately what the Jews are aiming at here, is the suppression of free speech. They must be the eternal victims.

    June 17, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
    • Maurice

      Do you actually KNOW what is going on over in Israel and Palestine? Have you been there? Do you see this all first-hand? Does anyone on this board actually have ANY real sense of the history of the Middle East? Have you looked at a map recently, and seen the actual size of Israel, like an apple seed in the midst of the giant apple that is the enormously wealthy and powerful Muslim Middle East? Are you all really that stupid??

      June 19, 2010 at 7:39 am |
    • jack h

      alot of countries in europe will put you in prison for up to 2 years if you say in public that the holocaust didn't happen or try to diminish the holocaust.

      June 19, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  7. Tam

    Carl wrote:
    The murder of 6 million Jews has diminished in shock value over the last 60 years due to apathy. But Russia and China lost a total of about 40 million in that war

    They were not all "Russian." Most were Ukrainian and Belarus. The way went through all of Ukraine. Soviets citizens are not all "Russian."

    Daylon, I have looked into the eyes of Ukrainians with tatooed numbers on their arms. They were in the camps, too.

    June 17, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  8. Tam

    Carl wrote:
    "The murder of 6 million Jews has diminished in shock value over the last 60 years due to apathy.
    But Russia and China lost a total of about 40 million in that war".

    June 17, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  9. Bertrand

    It is unfortunate in these times that we have become dull over mass murder events throughout the world. To remember an event as the holocaust is important as a milestone in our modern culture.
    That being said, from the get go, Israel’s birth has been within a region that was, at the time, already under pressure. Israel’s creation has been maintained through tactics that are closely apparent to the uses applied from other empires throughout history, including the Nazis regime.

    In this way, the victim of yesterday has become the oppressor of today, under the notion they (Israel) has a right to exist. At present, Israel is currently oppressing other countries. From that point, I do not believe anymore Israel is a victim (forever) because of the holocaust. They have learn how to oppress.

    Any denial from Israel is futile...your actions speak volumes....

    June 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  10. Ralph

    It is important to acknowledge and remember the Holocaust. It is important to remember the atrocities that happen and to ensure that we don't repeat them. But it is dangerous to compare such events with any military operation you don't agree with. While I may not necessarily agree with Israel's hardline approach to the occupied territories in Palestine, they are a far cry from Nazis and it is an insult to compare it to something on the level of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a massive extermination agenda fueled by hatred and evil. At best, the treatment of the occupied palestinian territories is fueled by fear, both real and imagined, by a country that is direct neighbors with a lot of people that aren't their biggest fans to say the least. Compare it if we (the US) had borders with Iran, North Korea along with Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan and we'd be a bit more paranoid ourselves. Such proximity to our oft times adversaries might make our own actions a bit more harsh and less forgiving.

    I do think that Israel needs to figure out a better way of dealing with the Palestinans and Hamas. They might not like Hamas (neither do we) but due to their own rigid agenda in the region and inability to effectively negotiate and deal with the PLO, they find themselves faced with the only solution the Palestinian people could come up with, and that was legitimizing Hamas as an officially elected governing body.

    June 17, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • Gary

      Ralph ,dealing with Hamas and roque palestinians Isreal shouldnt go green I think they should use nuclear energy on them as well as on the fine country of Iran.

      June 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  11. stephen

    i meant to say i am against the idiots who fall for the stupid left and right wing propoganda that demonizes Israel, which is a beautiful and resourceful country. We could learn a lot from them.

    June 17, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • Micki

      Learn a lot? Like how to hold grudges and overreact?

      My grandmother and her first husband were thrown into the same camps soley because they were Slavic, and her husband was killed there. So as soon as she was liberated, she moved to America, and worked every single menial job she could find to support herself, married my grandfather, and raised my mother to be self-sufficient. Nothing–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING– was every handed to her from any government, from money to a country.

      Because apparently it only mattered if you were targeted as a Jew. The same Slavic countries which are STILL in a turmoil of unrest and violence are ignored, and they are fighting much harder than Israel to maintain their independent nations, but who cares about them? It doesn't matter that they weren't handed their country on a silver platter. Let's worry about Israel. And if you talk to the Russians living in those countries, they feel just as victimized as the Palestinians, even though they only lived there for a few generations to bolster the Soviet influence.

      The fact of the matter is, while it's not really Israel's fault, but more the Allied forces, a large group of people had their land, where they had lived for generations, ripped away from them for another group to just move in. Of course they would be upset. Neither Israel nor Palestine is acting in a reasonable manner. But I think some people take exception with the "Israel is perfect, Palestine is evil" argument that is popular in the United States. I don't feel either country should be supported, because neither of them have acted in a condonable manner. Quit pretending like either of them has.

      June 20, 2010 at 5:02 am |
  12. stephen garbowit

    Israel and Jews want the holocaust remembered for many reasons, but tantamount is 'those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it'. I support Israel and the idiot hypocrites who argue against it. Israel is not perfect but it is a lot better than the other middle eastern states.

    June 17, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  13. Chris

    Being reminded of and remembering atrocities of the past has obviously not prevented horrible atrocities to happen again and again. History books are full of them. What does make a difference, however, is people standing up for what is right and decent. That did not happen in in the US with native Americans and slavery, that did not happen in Germany, that does not happen in Israel and the islamic world today. These horrible things will happen over and over and over again as long as there are humans in this world.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  14. Maikalangelo

    Yeah, sure there will be an inversion – that will stop as soon as the Jews pack the hell out of the lands they occupied.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • Gary

      Good Point Maikalagelo...but muslims around the world will still be murderous,terroristic thugs if "jew" up and leave Isreal and stop occupying it...

      June 17, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  15. Terry W. Brookman

    The Jews lost about six million but people forget the purges in Russia forty million and China eighty million. This is a sad place we live in and the dead should not be forgotten but we should move on. There is not much future in living so much in the past.

    June 17, 2010 at 9:08 am |
    • Gary

      Good Point Terry and Americans over 3 million in WW1,WW2,Korea,Vietnam combined....but that dosnt stop muslims from sticking bombs in mosques ..

      June 17, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  16. Patrick

    Seems like the Jews have the monopoly on the holocaust; weren't there a *whole lot* of people from other races and religions sent to the concentration camps? Although maybe the majority may have been Jewish, they seem to forget they weren't the only ones and *diminish* the fact that there were others.

    June 17, 2010 at 7:54 am |
    • Patrick

      Uh-oh – I just realized I'm going to be labeled anti-semetic/ anti-zionist now :O

      June 17, 2010 at 7:57 am |
    • Gary

      Patrick good point ...but palestinians still terrorist thugs..

      June 17, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  17. JHaas

    As a Frenchman, I am appalled by Finkielkraut's cluelessness. Post-Nazi Europe is now hiding behind its muslim minorities but antisemitism is as strong as ever. You only have to watch French TV's shockingly militant pro-Palestinian activism to realize that the French elites don't fear barbarity but, rather, are actively working to summon it.

    June 17, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  18. stevec

    This is a HUGE thing for jews – if the horror of the holocaust begins to wane, then it becomes that much more difficult for them to play their "professional victim" card.

    June 17, 2010 at 12:59 am |
    • Ana

      and they first sold themselves into indentured bondage to the Sumero-Assyrians. Ironically, the original home of the Hebrews might just be the Zagros Mtns of Iran. How about the Israeli's relocate there, if Arabs want them to "go back to where the came from." Not likely.
      Playing victim will no longer work in the post-modern world; however, is genocide, persecution or simply being ignored or marginalized acceptable as long as it happening to someone else? Someone black, or those forced into impoverishment?

      June 20, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  19. Friedrich Paul Berg

    Even if the holocaust story were true, the war crimes and atrocities committed by the US and Britain were far worse. The US and Britain as a matter of thoughtfully crafted “strategy,”initiated the mass murder of huge masses of totally innocent women, children and babies by deliberately r-o-as-t-i-n-g them to death—and continued these sadistic and cowardly crimes long after there ceased to be any danger to the US or Britain. If the Nazis had murdered people in gas chambers, that would have been humane by comparison. In fact, however, Nazi gassings never happened! The Nazis were the “Good Guys.” The anti-Nazis, especially the Americans, were the ”Bad Guys”—and they still are. Holocaust propaganda is the continuation of anti-Nazi lunacy driven by the most rabidly racist and destructive people on the planet.

    June 16, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
    • Wendy

      Your post is one of the most nonsensical comments that I have ever, ever read on World War II. I could understand if you were questioning the bombing of Dresden or Hiroshima as the war was nearly ended by then but to say that the Allies were more responsible for deaths is crazy. Basically, you are saying that the victims (the countries rather than the populace) should just give in when attacked because then they won't be harmed.

      June 17, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • Eugene Frank MD

      Berg would have us believe that Nazi Germany, and the complacent German population, did not initiate WWII, did not start a war that ended in the destruction of Germany, that the concentration camps and the gas ovens are fictitious: it is people such as you that turn the monstrous, assembly-line killing of millions, Jews, Gypsies, Gays, the sick, the maim, anyone that reminded the Nazi, the SS and complacent Germans that they, as well as you, are ugly, hating, jealous, envious and now resentful that you got what you deserved: start a war without rules so you make the rules of life and then are angry that you got what you deserved because there were no longer rules to protect you.

      June 17, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
    • Brandt Ziegler

      Hm...I think that's all I have to say. I'm sorry for the Muslims who are mistreated, etc. Islam is a faith rooted in violent philosophy however, so I guess violence begets violence? Bottom line is I have work to do today, and stirring up of endless emotions never did anyone any good. Forgive those who have wronged you, seek truth, live life to its fullest. Shalom.

      June 19, 2010 at 8:03 am |
  20. Fuyuko

    The holocaust was a sad event that shall never be forgotten. However, the Jews weren't the only ones sent to death camps during the war and murdered by the Nazi's. What bothers me is there is always so much focus on the jewish plight that the plight and suffering of other groups and people are not remembered and seem to be glossed over.

    June 16, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
    • Gary

      Fuyuko you are correct ..thats why it is important for muslim terrorist to keep doing their job blowing up buildings,mosques and killng themselves and each other so we can finally quit feeling sorry for the crappy Jews..

      June 17, 2010 at 11:55 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.