(photo credit: Jonathan Beck)
On December 17 Spain became a full member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (ITF). The approval of our candidacy by the ITF Plenary in Vienna, sponsored by Israel and France, put a successful end to a journey that started in 2005 when we joined as an invited country and continued in December 2006 when we became observers.
In December 2004, the government of Prime Minister Jose Rodriguez Zapatero had made the decision to mark January 27 in the Spanish official calendar as the date of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Prevention of Crimes against Humanity. As a first step, in June 2005, Spain hosted an OSCE conference on anti-Semitism which was widely praised and adopted the so-called Cordoba Declaration.
On January 2006, King Juan Carlos led the attendance of the highest state authorities at a formal ceremony in which the prime minister underlined Spain's determination to actively promote awareness of the Shoah, particularly among the younger generations.
LATER ON that same year, the new education law brought the Shoah into the official curricula, including a mandatory commitment to train teachers so that they can properly transmit knowledge to secondary education students. Spain's efforts to raise awareness have shaped up in a number of different ways coordinated mostly by Casa Sefarad-Israel, the public diplomacy institution which I have the privilege of heading since last summer. For instance, we have organized a number of presentations of books with Holocaust survivors, of exhibitions such as "Visas for Freedom" devoted to the brave efforts of some Spanish diplomats to save Jews, of conferences and of training seminars for teachers.
The mandate of Casa Sefarad-Israel goes well beyond the Holocaust to encompass as well the promotion of all sorts of links and ties between Spain, Israel and Jewish communities around the world. However, since its establishment in December 2006, Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Moratinos, understood that Casa Sefarad-Israel was the natural partner to implement the collective effort led by Spanish Ambassador for Relations with Jewish Communities and Organizations Ana SÃ¡lomon, who heads an intergovernamental commission bringing together representatives from the ministries of Justice, Education and Culture. We are proud to have already trained more than 300 Spanish educators through seminars and courses both, in Spain and in Yad Vashem, as I had the privilege to testify personally last August in Jerusalem.
THIS IS just the beginning of a long-term effort which Casa Sefarad-Israel will continue to bring about in the coming years, in close contact with such prestigious partners as Yad Vashem, the Shoah Memorial in Paris, the Holocaust museums in Houston and Buenos Aires and other relevant institutions. In addition, we are actively developing didactic materials geared specifically to Spanish youth, seeking advice from other countries that are already members of the ITF, including the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland.
As most countries, Spain has had its share of dark chapters in history but, fortunately, we did not take an active part in the Holocaust. As a result, we may have felt less of an urge to research about how such a horror could take place and take a preemptive attitude against anything remotely similar ever coming close to happening again.
As described above, this started to change four years ago. As a leading partner within the European Union, Spain is fully aware of Europe's duty to ensure that the lessons of the Shoah and names such as those of Primo Levy, Elie Wiesel, Janusz Korczak, Marek Edelman or Jacques Stroumsa, Auschwitz's violinist, become part of the basic education of each and every European citizen.
THE OTHER members of the ITF have rewarded Spain's ongoing efforts accepting our country as a full member. We view this achievement as a strong incentive to intensify our efforts aiming at enlarging the network of Spanish institutions involved and widening the number of teachers trained, reaching an ever increasing number of Spanish kids.
Spain has undertaken this task of its own will and not expecting any reward other than the fulfillment of a duty that we owe to ourselves. Casa Sefarad-Israel will certainly continue to play its part.
The writer is general director of Casa Sefarad-Israel.