The Holocaust: “A gallon of talk and a teaspoon of action”

Some reflections on the 47th Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and the 5th World Holocaust Forum

Section IIIA

The History of the World Holocaust Forum: “A gallon of talk and a teaspoon [if that] of action”

Notes: The segment of the heading of this section in quotation marks is borrowed from the title of Robert Scott Kellner’s recent article published in History News Network under the title “A Gallon of Talk and a Teaspoon of Action, Then Label the Problem “Insolvable” and Plan another Conference.”

For sake of brevity, the introductory narrative concerning each Holocaust World Forum is borrowed from Wikipedia, modified where called for, and supplemented by my own research and analysis.

The first four gatherings of the Forum

The first four gatherings of the Forum were held in Poland (2005); Ukraine (2006); Poland (2010) and Czech Republic – Prague and Terezin, (2015).

All four were titled

‘…World Forum “Let My People Live!”

The attendance at these events increased over the years to the point where the fourth one was attended by over 400 guests that comprised several hundred distinguished guests including numerous heads of state, political leaders, members of parliament, diplomats, scholars and public figures from many countries, one of the few surviving so-called Auschwitz-Birkenau liberators, former prisoners of the concentration camps and Holocaust survivors and a number of organisations.

The first Forum: Poland (2005)

The first Forum issued the World Holocaust Forum Declaration that set out a number of objectives, the principal one being focused on Holocaust education.


The U.N. designation of January 27 as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust and the accompanying resolution

That same year, on January 27, 2005 the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) designed the date as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust”; commonly referred to as the “International Holocaust Remembrance Day”.

Further, the U.N. General Assembly rejected any denial of the Holocaust, as a historical event either in full or in part and adopted, by “consensus”, rather than by vote, the resolution, condemning “without reserve, all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, whenever they occur”.

Great stuff, except that Gilad Cohen, who in 2004 was serving as a political advisor to the Israel Permanent Mission at the U.N, informs us that the ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Day” almost did not happen” as a result of the initial obstruction of the European Union.

As Cohen tells it: In late 2004, the then director of the Department for International Organizations at the Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs proposed the initiation of a special session at the United Nations’ General Assembly to commemorate the Holocaust.

The goal of this special session was to strengthen and enhance the world’s capacity to counter the phenomenon of Holocaust denial and the proliferation of anti-Semitism. As Cohen puts it: It was an exceptional initiative.

In order to get resolution through the General Assembly it was necessary to secure the supporting votes of all the member countries of the European Union (E.U.) in order to overcome the opposing votes of U.N’s large number of anti-Israel, cum anti-Semitic members.

At the first meeting hosted by a diplomat of the E.U., the host began the meeting by “stating that, to his regret, as the Arab block was opposed to the initiative, and as the Europeans did not want to arouse debate or differences of opinion on the issue of the Holocaust, they would not lend their support to the Israeli initiative”.

By the end, of what must have been a tough meeting, the host, after a short consultation with his Ambassador, informed the meeting that the E.U will join the initiative.

The sequel to the 2005 U.N. consensual resolution: The de facto repeal of it with the connivance of the E.U.

As it turns out, the professed decision of the E.U. to support the initiative and the resolution was a contrived one. Since then, the E.U. has honoured the resolution in its breach.

The E.U members, both before and since the passing of the resolution, have done little of material consequence to implement the letter and the spirit of the 2005 resolution through their foreign and domestic policies.

Instead, by omission and commission in their voting patterns at the UNGA, they aided and abetted the anti-Semitic member nations, in effect, to repeal de facto the  resolution by voting for or abstaining from voting, year in year out, against the innumerable anti-Semitic resolutions brought by the majority of the members of the U.N.

This shameful behaviour is confirmed by the facts that in the aftermath of the defensive 1967 War until now and for the foreseeable future, the E.U. has and will continue to pursue its increasingly dastardly anti-Israel policies through a number of its own decisions based on anti-Semitic premises.

Thus, for example, Germany, a country with no less than three genocides in one century to its debit, along with other E.U nations, confers

a) Political respectability to the genocidal regime of Iran and to its agent, the Hezbollah organisation while,

b) Political legitimacy to the designs of the Palestinian Authority by generously financing the totally corrupt Authority’s terrorist “pay for slay” scheme as well as its school books brimming with the kinds of educational materials condemned by the 2005 resolution.

Concurrently,on the home front, Germany has been fanning the fires of anti-Semitism of the nationalist right-wing extremists through its immigration and refugee policies; while in effect = acting as a role model for the extreme left-wingers by engaging in subtle anti-Semitic discourse under the guise of criticizing the foreign policy of the government of Israel.

For all intents and purposes, the 2005 resolution that accompanied U.N.’s designation of the “International Holocaust Remembrance Day” is invoked by very many countries, keen to keep up international good appearances and to provide their respective Heads of State with photo-ops by visiting Yad Vachem and uttering the politically correct platitudes.

The second Forum: Ukraine (2006)

The second forum also issued a Declaration that sets out the principal objective of uniting efforts in the fight against xenophobia, antisemitism and international terrorism.

The third Forum: Poland (2010)

The third Forum aimed at creating connections between the past and the future and preventing any recurrence of the tragedies of the past. The main result of the deliberations was the announcement of an initiative to establish a new special educational and research institution-a Pan-European University of Global Security and Tolerance. The key objective of this institution was set to assist the international community in its struggle for global security in the face of challenges posed by extremism. The institution was also to focus on arranging cross-cultural educational and instructional programmes designed to harmonise the development of international co-operation and education.

As with the preceding two, this one did not produce any palpable improvements either for the Jew on the street or for the Jewish communities.

The fourth Forum: Czech Republic (2015)

The fourth Forum focused on remembering the past and reflecting on the present at a time when rising antisemitism and intolerance pose a threat not only to the safety and survival of Jewish communities in Europe, but also to the long-term survival of Europe as a whole.

Noteworthy, 10 years after the UNGA. Passed the resolution to fight all forms of hatred, the Forum through the Round Tables of Speakers of Parliament found it necessary to adopt the 2015 “Prague Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes”.

The Declaration prescribes a “zero-tolerance” policy towards antisemitism and hate crimes and states that this can be achieved through a threefold approach: education, legislation and enforcement. Towards this end the Round Table recommended the establishment of an inter-parliamentarian Working group to draft legal proposals strengthening tolerance and combating various forms of hatred and incitement to hatred in the spirit of this Declaration.

To the best of my knowledge, to date, nothing of significance seems to have come out from this recommendation.

Ironies about two of the host countries

Three of the four gatherings   hosted by Poland (2) and Ukraine (1) respectively are not without their ironies. More specifically,

  1. a) Ukraine keeps alive the memory of her abominable wartime collaboration with the Germans to  extinguish   the Jewish people, by the celebration, if not quasi-sanctification  of the lives and deeds of some of her  national heroes of World War II  who aided and abetted the Germans in their murderous designs, while
  2. b) Poland has been doggedly seeking to re-write her history of aiding and abetting the Germans in carrying out their genocidal designs.

And the irony concerning Poland is compounded by the role she plays within the E.U. as member of the Visegrad Block within the E.U.  Poland is the most powerful member of the Block  which comprises Hungary, the Czech Republic and  Slovakia whose governments are Israel’s steadiest allies in the E.U. On a number of occasions, they prevented the E.U from adopting   policy decisions or prescribing courses of action hostile, prejudicial or dangerous to Israel, by withholding their consent.

.The track record of the Forum prior to 2020

Regrettably, to date, the Forum has been singularly unsuccessful in delivering on its prescriptions the key one being “educate legislate and enforce.

Education focused on the Holocaust

The information available to date on this subject discloses the following:

  1. A staggering 41% of the Americans and 66%of the millennials say they never heard about Auschwitz death camps;
  2. In 2016, University College, London’s Centre for Holocaust Education concluded a three year study of high school students in England, where the Holocaust is the only compulsory subject on the national history curriculum.

Although   the vast majority of students said they wanted to learn about it to stop something similar happening again,

  1. a) Many did not understand who the Nazis were or that they had collaborators in other regimes and/or had no idea how many Jews were murdered;
  2. b) While the majority knew that the Jews were the primary victims, they had little understanding why they were persecuted;
  3. c) Worse, they themselves came up with anti-Jewish stereotypes, with a number of them referring to the Jews as a single group, being rich or having power, and therefore being perceived as a threat;
  4. d) In 2018, Edna Friedberg of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. cited troubling examples of sloppy analogising between the Jews of Israel.

One such analogy that has become common currency is that Israelis are acting towards the Palestinians the way the Nazis treated them.

  1. In France, the Holocaust is a mandatory school subject. In 2019, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany commissioned a survey conducted among the French public. The results of the survey that was published during the 5th Forum.

The responses to the survey disclosed that;

  1. a) 57% of the respondents did not know the basic facts about the Holocaust such as  the number of Jews murdered by the Germans; with 30% thinking that the number was two million or less;
  2. b) 81% did not recognise the name Auschwitz-Birkenau;
  3. c) 69% of the millennials and Generation Z greatly underestimated the number of Jewish murdered with 44% thinking it was less than two million;
  4. d) 25% of the millennials had not even heard of the Holocaust;
  5. e) Many were unfamiliar with the role France played;
  6. f) 45% did not know that the Vichy government, which the Germans allowed to rule over the southern half of France during World War II, collaborated with the Nazis in hunting down and deporting Jewish citizens and refugees alike;
  7. g) Only 2% knew about Drancy, in the suburbs of Paris, the French internment camp from where between June 1942  and July 1944,  67,400 French, German and Polish Jews including  6000 children were deported to their extermination;
  8. h) 20% of the younger respondents think that presently in France, it is acceptable to express anti-Semitic opinions although the rate drops to 10% among the respondents in general;
  9. e) 69% thought that currently, antisemitism is as bad or worse in France than it was a decade ago,  and
  10. f) Over 50% believe that the Holocaust could happen again in Europe.
  11. And I am almost sure that not many respondents, if any, knew that
  12. a) The French national railroad company participated in the transportation of Jews to the concentration camps and that the company did not see fit to apologise for aiding and abetting the Germans in killing Jews until recently; or that
  13. b) Save for the prosecution of Marshall Petain and some of his close collaborators in the Vichy regime for treason, France waited until 1995 when President Jacques Chirac recognised the collaborationist French Vichy Government’s role in deporting Jews.
  14. These results provide some evidence that in every country where subject of Holocaust is taught, the teaching is slanted from the perspective of the country involved so as to show the country’s involvement in the Holocaust in the best possible light. A practice that does not promote a proper or honest treatment of the historical facts.
  15. Finally, based on the available data, it would appear that a fair number of the teachers selected to teach the subject may not be up to the demands of the task in terms of scholarship, critical analysis and pedagogical skills.

In this regard, I refer the readers to the following two pieces, namely; that of Edna Friedberg’s “Why Holocaust Analogies Are Dangerous” issued in 2018 as a press release by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and that of Irene Lancaster and Rowan Williams titled “Confronting a noxious new age of Jew Hate” published in the January 30 issue of Standpoint.

Clearly, in so far as it can be determined, to date the Forum has failed to reach its objective to have students educated properly about the Holocaust.

Clearly this problem needs immediate attention, I suggest,

First, by designing an international syllabus responsive to the foregoing points in the context of the genesis and interactive dynamics of ignorance, prejudice, intolerance, hate, dehumanisation and violence.

Second, by providing some or all of the mandatory course materials and those specific to the countries that would agree to teach the subject with the syllabus and teaching materials;

Third, by paying particular attention to the pedagogical issues and towards this end incorporating the key features of the manner in which the subject is taught at Yad Vachem, and

Finally, by providing training to those teaching or interested in teaching a course on Holocaust, preferably in person and in the alternative by televised university courses.

Legislation and the enforcement of the law

In this day and age when the freedom of speech and that of religious beliefs have become the paramount and absolute criteria, and in some instances mindless fetishes, against which all legislation must be assessed; clearly, it is extremely difficult to frame legislation that is effective against the hate crimes, and just as, if not more, importantly to enforce the provisions of the legislation with a zero tolerance policy.

Yet, hate crime legislation,  at least  the legislation I am familiar with, is riddled with so many qualifiers, and open to inconsistent interpretations that one can safely ride truckloads of  hatemongers through their provisions, without  the risk of being found guilty of any of these.

Of course the effectiveness of legislation depends on the willingness and determination of the authorities to enforce its provisions and the willingness of the courts to convict the accused for hate crimes and issue the appropriate sentences.

The evidence to date indicates that the E.U governments are not quite prepared to prosecute hatemongers and terrorists in action, particularly the refugees and migrant ones. They cover up their resistance  to prosecute them with a variety of excuses such as: the offence is not motivated by hate; the motivation of the offender cannot be determined; the offender  is not a terrorist; the offender did not intend  to commit an act of  hatemongering or terrorism; the accused  thought he was allowed to do that, and one that is quiet popular in France, namely; the offender is mentally diseased and therefore he did not have the mental capacity to form an intent to harm or could not understand the consequences of  his actions.

In France, Germany and Sweden, among other countries, it does not seem to occur to the government and the political elites that the failure to investigate properly or the refusal to prosecute is tantamount to inviting; aiding and abetting, and granting the potential and actual offenders the licence to injure physically and/or mentally, to maim, kill and/or destroy.

In conclusion

The organisers of and the countries attending the Forum  kid one another and the world at large that  the problems at hand is solvable and that they are, if not to able to solve them presently ,they certainly making progress towards that end and carry on as before.

About the Author
Doğan Akman was born and schooled in Istanbul, Turkey. Upon his graduation from Lycee St. Michel, he immigrated to Canada with his family. In Canada, he taught university in sociology-criminology and social welfare policy and published some articles in criminology journals After a stint as a Judge of the Provincial Court (criminal and family divisions) of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, he joined the Federal Department of Justice working first as a Crown prosecutor, and then switching to civil litigation and specialising in aboriginal law. Since his retirement he has published articles in Sephardic Horizons and e-Sefarad and in an anthology edited by Rifat Bali titled This is My New Homeland and published in Istanbul.
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