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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. Alyssa Mallozzi

    There is something that has been annoying the daylights out of me about the Holocaust. It was not just 6 million Jews who were murdered-what about the other 6 million? The Gypsies, the 'social deviants', anyone who crossed the Nazis? NOBODY ever wants to mourn their deaths, maybe because they deserved to die? Rubbish. NO ONE should be subjected to such atrocities, regardless of ethnicity, religion or lifestyle.
    Why can't the world recognize all the countless other victims of the Holocaust besides the Jewish people? I am not an anti-Semite, but it upsets me to see innocent lives taken from this world so savagely taken and their suffering not go noticed? How can we in good conscience just 'forget' about the other 6 million? They had families, histories, a culture. WHy are their lives less important than the 6 million Jews? We need to stop editing history to suit agendas.

    June 20, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  2. KeithTexas

    Basically we are all just tired of hearing about it. I am real sorry a bunch of people didn't like you and almost wiped you out, but my country sends billions of dollars to your country and we need the money here. You also are not acting honorably with the Palestinians. Breaking International law, sending your spy's to the countries of your allies, refusing to follow UN mandates. You are right there is Anti-Semitic people in the world, but now it seems that you are creating a climate that will raise the level of hatred toward Israelis. You are the people that you are trying to teach people about, you are the cruel and heartless people now.

    June 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  3. Ana

    Good posts, overall. I agree that we must keep teaching our children that 20th Century genocides occurred, and to what extent. It would be useful, as some noted, to include more information about the wide sweep of people who were interned and brutalized. It is also well to note that the idea of concentration camps was 'invented' by elements in the USA; the Nazi's merely enacted the policy first.
    Also important to note has been mentioned in articles lately: Economic collapse is a key factor in creating mass hatred and anger, and turning citizens against each other and encouraging cold, dispassionate views towards others. Could it happen again? Yes. here? Most certainly (it already has). The only question is, who will be targeted next time?

    June 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • jack h

      didn't the jews create the current worldwide economic collapse?

      June 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
    • Ana

      Exactly. They won't be the targets in future.

      June 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  4. Alex

    "The Holocaust" refers to the mass murder of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. It was just one genocidal event in human history. In the last 1000 years the British have committed genocide, the Spanish have committed genocide, the Portugese have committed genocide, the Americans have committed genocide....the list goes on.

    The Jewish people were conquered about 2700 years ago. They never regained their land by force. The lands were conqured by other nations and often the Jewish people were 'reinstated' to parts of their homeland but it was not until the end of WWII that the nation of Israel was 'created' for the Jewish people.

    As a comparison, it would be the same thing as the United States losing WWII and having the Germans give half of the United States back to the Native Americans then giving them weapons and money to fend of their enemies.

    June 20, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • jack h

      the holocaust is a fabrication of the facts. it is a total lie that hitler and the nazi's targeted the jews for extermination. if the holocaust is true, then why so many jewish survivers of the camps? if the nazi's had exterminated the jews or at least 90%, they would have done the world a great favor.

      June 20, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  5. john

    First, why is the holocaust the biggest crime against humanity, The russians under Stalin did the same, but by starving them to death, and just not Jews either, He killed more people than Hitler did, He killed his own people for not fighting for the Motherland. But yet We focus on Hitler, Les we forget Sept 1939, German, and RUSSIAN troops invaded Poland thus starting World War 2. But Germany is blame for starting the War when rather the Treaty of versailes was.

    June 20, 2010 at 6:30 am |
    • MikeyNYC

      When and where did anyone claim that the Holocaut was the "biggest crime against humanity"? No one that teaches the Holocuast claims that the Jews were the only people who suffered and were murdered during WWII. Those that teach the Holocaust don't teach hatred and anger – they teach that hatred and anger are the underlying CAUSE of such atrocities. In most Holocuast curriculums, students learn about OTHER, SIMILAR atrocities that have been perpetrated throughout the ages. Antisemitic blowards are the only people who claim that somehow Jews believe that the Holocaust is somehow more meaningful and more important than atrocities of others – of course it isn't! Its simply one of the most accessible examples of such evil that occurred in the recent past, which may allow students to identify with such things. Furthermore, there is a difference between soldiers killing each other in a war and murdering a person or a people because of how they look or what they believe.

      June 20, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • Ana

      John, and Jack h: death was not the only end for those interned. Remember the medical 'experiments'? Remember that our government 'experimented' medically with African-Americans in the South, injecting them with syphallis to "see what would happen, how it would progress." I should think that being robbed of liberty and property and being branded with a number would be enough to outrage any freedom loving person, and No, I'm not a tea-bagger.
      The world is overpopulated and faced with numerous challenges right now; people are understandably angry and fearful. Mind we don't turn on each other because we're all in this together. Remember how the Roman Empire fell. Think how further eroding (California) or perverting educaton (Texas) which is already dumbed down adds to inflammable ignorance.

      June 20, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  6. Nitrogen

    I'm going to do something crazy for a second and defend Hitler. You call him evil. I don't think he was. There is definitely no excuse for what he led his country into doing of course. But:
    He was probably wacked out on drugs pretty bad, a result of poor medical science. His country was in turmoil because of the reparations it had to pay from WWI, and the citizens were desperate for leadership. The justification Hitler thought he had was based in science, specifically social darwinism (which was relatively widely accepted at the time) and genetics. Unfortunately, one of the nasty things science can do is provide the answers you want to find, especially when the scientists are part of that desperate (traditionally anti-semitic) populace. But Hitler thought he was doing the right thing. How many times has that happened to you? Hitler went to one of the death camps and was horrified by what he saw, but he thought it was for the greater good. Callous, misled, over-zealous, perhaps a bit strung out, yes. Evil, no.

    In a way, I think the holocaust was bound to happen. It's part of scientific progress. A very ugly part. We had to learn that science shouldn't be used to wipe people we don't especially like from the face of the planet (the Manhattan Project comes to mind). Unfortunately, the defense of Hitler I just gave is used to pin the some of the blame on science as well, which is completely unacceptable because of the trial and error nature of science, and it hinders areas of science such as genetic engineering from progressing.

    It was a big mistake. We learned from it. Can we please acknowledge the fact we're human and we suck sometimes and (carefully) move on? It was one of the worst events in history because it was was covered so well. There were far greater atrocities before Hitler. Its sort of like earthquakes, the more they're televised, the more people think it's the end of the world.

    Now that I have done precisely what this article is designed to prevent, I bid you all gute nacht.

    June 20, 2010 at 5:53 am |
    • George

      The world's largest concentration of Jews lived in Germany. The jews went there to escape pogroms all over eastern europe in the nineteenth century. The Jews formed the educated class, doctors, lawyers, musicians, university professors, bankers, merchants, manufacturers, and lawyers. Hitler was of the peasant class, appealing to their prejudices and jealousies toward people of higher status. Jews, were also active in the Communist movement in Europe. Both of these groups were diametrically opposed to the Nazis. Hitler was a crowd pleaser, and an astute politician who blamed the misery in Germany largely on the Jews and Communists who sold Germany out in World War One. No WW1 battles were fought in Germany. It was good old fashioned politics. The difference being there was no Constitutional supremacy to protect individual rights. The message here is protect the Constitution, and don't tamper with individual rights or we could be like Germany in 1933.

      June 20, 2010 at 7:36 am |
  7. Gary

    Lets just let isreal and Palestine fight it out using all their military. let them settle it once and for all.

    June 20, 2010 at 1:31 am |
  8. C#Eddie

    I have read what the Nazi did to the jews and it is barbaric.
    And I would agree with the jews that no nation should be allowed to do this to another. And the knowledge of the holocaust should never be forgotten and must be kept alive forever..

    My Only question is why are the state of Israel doing the same barbaric act to the Palestinian.

    June 20, 2010 at 1:01 am |
  9. Lou

    Nobody ever gave any sympathy to what the German people put up with since the beginning of time. WW1 was a particular horror for them and unjustly blamed on them also. Napolian raped Germany and killed by cold and starvation hundred of thousands of young men. I think its about time to stop blaming Germany for saying "Never again". They had their own holocaust. Many in fact.

    June 19, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  10. alex

    so why is the state of israel building camps???

    June 19, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  11. JininNM

    So, the Khazars funded the Russian Revolution to usher in Communism. How many people were killed in the Russian Revolution funded by the Khazars (20,000,000)? 20,000,000/6,000,000 is 3.33. The number of people killed in the Russian Revolution funded by the Khazars was 3.33 times the number of Khazars killed in WWII.

    June 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  12. George

    It's inevitable that with the generation that lived WWII nearly gone, the attrocities of the Nazis will dim; but, they should not be forgotten. Genocide was a staple of ancient warfare; but, what was so startling about the Holocaust was that it was perpetrated in modern times by one of the most "civilized" countries of Europe, using all the tools of modern industry. The Jews may not have been the only target of the Nazis (there was also an effort to exterminate Gypsies and a few other groups) but they were the main target when it came to outright extermination. Sure, millions of Russians and others were killed, and that's a terrible thing, but that was in the context of trying to take control of those countries, not an effort to exterminate an entire race (the Nazis erroneously saw Judaism as a race, not a religion). Maybe the Nazis would have enlarged their mission if they had won the war–they certainly had the ideology for it–but we'll never know.

    To some of the posters here who think Israel applies the lessons of the Holocaust only to attempts to exterminate Jews, that's not true. Back in the Lebanon war, when rumors reached Israel that, following the assassination of the Christian Lebanese president, the Christian Phalangist-controlled Lebanese army (then allies of Israel) had rounded up thousands of Palestinian residents of the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps and was marching them to a stadium where bulldozers were preparing mass graves, it sparked the biggest protest in Israel's history and just about brought down the government. Sure, Israel has had wars with the surrounding Arab states and has ongoing confrontations, sometimes bloody, with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; but, the vast majority of Israels react with horror to the suggestion of genocide against anyone, precisely because of the lessons of the Holocaust.

    June 19, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  13. jack h

    i want everyone to remember that the jews own the corrupt thieving federal reserve bank and the american people owe our national debt of over 12 trillion dollars to them. anyone who has ever tried to close the federal reserve bank was murdered or threatened with death.

    June 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  14. jack h

    THE JEWS MUST HAVE ALOT OF POWER AND SOMETHING TO HIDE if someone can be thrown into prison in many countries in europe just for public denial of the holocaust. how could laws like that be enacted? i'm sure the people of europe didn't support these laws.

    June 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  15. Brett

    I just would like to know where all these groups were when the Tutsi peoples were being slaughtered to death by the hundreds of thousands in the 90's.

    June 19, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • Gary

      Brett, that was an example of ethnic cleansing and population control , Africa,China and India really benefiit from mass slaughters,starvation and disease. The surviviors have more land,food and supplies....

      June 19, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  16. captain gort

    The Holocaust was just one of the MANY such events of WW2 committed by ALL participants. Germany and Russia
    were the worst...and the Jews did take a big hit...but CERTAINLY were NOT the only such group so affected. The USA and Britain executed innocent men, woman and children -perhaps millions of them- in their wholesale bombing of cities....even NUKING 2 cities (and these were NOT military bases). I do notice that certain groups use historical, terrible tragedies in their past to forever perpetuate and justify their current actions, good and bad. Its a tool of propaganda.

    June 19, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • Gary

      WW11 was good for population control. World needs WW111 to commence soon!

      June 19, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  17. Clark Dodson Vernick

    The holocaust killed over six million jews! Long live the nation of Israel!

    June 19, 2010 at 11:04 am |
    • Gary

      Clark Dodson Vernick ....thousands of Isrealies have been blown up and killed since 1948 inception of Isreal.

      June 19, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  18. jim

    Sounds wise, but is totally meaningless. We will repeat history (in the sense that we will always have wars, mass murders, subjugation of populations, etc) because it is our nature, not because we have "forgotten history". You might be surprised at how much of the world's population considers the so-called "holocaust" ancient history and completely irrelevant to their lives.

    June 19, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  19. Eli Weisel

    Forget history and you will repeat it. That is all you need to know.

    June 19, 2010 at 12:02 am |
    • Eric G

      We don't need to forget history. History is forgotten for us. Read a U.S. history book from the 1930's and then one from today. History gets changed and manipulated over time.

      June 19, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  20. RAS

    I think jewish people have suffered greatly no dought and my heart will always bleed about what the germans did. I guess the hardest problem I have with is how Isreal came to be, when that was not thier land. Since that time has passed thier borders taking more and more land from thier rightful owners by force and expect to have thier image clean? Maybe I am not pervy to all the details maybe Isreal does have claim to that land but in my research and personal curiousity of searching I have yet to find that. I just have trouble picturing Isreal as being the victim in recent events, forgive my bluntness but justifying being a bully because they themselves have been bullied does not play out well.

    June 18, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
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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.