Holocaust recognition and denial: still a major issue - Opinion

Recognition of the Holocaust on a state level should not be a matter of politics. It should just be done.

 Strasbourg's Grand Rabbi Weill inspects graves desecrated with swastikas in the Jewish cemetery of Herrlisheim (photo credit: REUTERS/VINCENT KESSLER)
Strasbourg's Grand Rabbi Weill inspects graves desecrated with swastikas in the Jewish cemetery of Herrlisheim

Just over 80 years ago, on January 20, in a cozy suburb of Berlin, a terrifying decision was made, which was fortunately never fully realized. The decision was to apply the ‘Final Solution’ –to exterminate the Jewish population of the Eurasian continent and beyond. For somebody who isn’t familiar with the story of the Wannsee Conference, it may sound very abstract and not realistic. Unfortunately, this was not the case in 1942. The Germans, who made this decision, were well-prepared to execute this monstrous plan. The rest is history.

With the passage of time, the issue of official Holocaust recognition is becoming even more crucial. Nations and states do not always agree on historical facts. Moreover, in a world where ideologies are spreading faster than ever, which gain popularity in a matter of days, historical truth is somewhat of a ‘rare element’ that must be preserved. Sadly, even such a tragedy for the Jewish people and the whole world is becoming a matter of politics.

That’s why International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 is not just a formality, especially when adopted as an official date on the state level. Recently, Azerbaijan decided to officially mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. President of the Republic Ilham Aliyev announced this during a meeting with the President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Rabbi Marc Schneier, a well-known supporter of Judeo-Muslim interfaith dialogue. Moreover, Azerbaijan will become one of the few Muslim-majority countries to officially commemorate Holocaust victims.

In April 2021, as a part of the Abraham Accords normalization agreement, the UAE became the first Muslim country to officially celebrate Yom HaShoah (observed on the 27th of Nisan on the Jewish calendar) along with International Remembrance Day. In the summer of 2021, for the first time in the Arab world, the UAE hosted an exhibition dedicated to the Holocaust at The Crossroads of Civilization Museum in Dubai. Last year, Dr. Muhammad Al-Issa, former Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and current Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, visited Auschwitz as part of a Jewish-Muslim delegation.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is also officially marked in Albania – a Muslim-majority country. In 2020, a monument to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust was opened in the capital city of Tirana. Albania is proud of the fact that during the Second World War, its citizens fiercely defended local Jews. In fact, Albania was the only country in Europe whose Jewish population increased during the war.

These official steps of Holocaust commemoration, especially in the Muslim world, are a significant move forward but not sufficient to eradicate the trend of Holocaust denial. The next reasonable step would be the adoption of the working definition of antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Among other aspects, this broad definition of antisemitism includes denial of the fact, scope, mechanisms or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters during World War II. An IHRA definition, in our view, provides a solid legal base for fighting Holocaust denial and should be adopted by more states.

The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress is actively involved in promoting the IHRA definition among the states of the region and consistently urges its leaders to form a clear policy regarding Holocaust memory.

In April 2021, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova adopted a law criminalizing Holocaust denial, propaganda of xenophobia, racism and fascism. The Chairman of the Jewish community of Moldova, Vice-President of the EAJC, Alexander Bilinkis, was directly involved in the development of this law. In September, a similar law, which also includes criminal liability for Holocaust denial, was adopted in Ukraine.

Still, we see swastikas on Jewish monuments or gravestones in Moldova and mass marches glorifying Nazi collaborators in Ukraine. In Russia, according to the numbers from the latest EAJC publication on antisemitism, while most respondents know about the Holocaust, at a seminar for school principals in St. Petersburg, the host appeared to be a dedicated Holocaust denier. It is worth mentioning that this lecturer was fired. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but proper legislation can help hold the offenders accountable.

In historical terms, 80 years is a very short period of time. But as we can see, in terms of reality, perception and historical truth, it can be quite challenging. Despite all the evidence, with all the preservation and education, Holocaust recognition and denial is still a major issue. We call on the authorities of all countries to pass legislation prohibiting Holocaust denial, ratifying the IHRA definition of antisemitism and integrating Holocaust studies into government educational programs.

 Dr. Michael Mirilashvili is President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress