The US wants to achieve a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors

US special envoy for Holocaust issues speaks with the ‘Post’ about the spread of misinformation and the need for education.

 A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR holds a Torah as he arrives at the entrance to Auschwitz for the annual March of the Living marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in May. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)
A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR holds a Torah as he arrives at the entrance to Auschwitz for the annual March of the Living marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in May.
(photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – “One of the things that I’m trying to do is to get my office focused more on the issue of Holocaust distortion and denial, especially online,” said Ellen Germain, special envoy for Holocaust issues in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We all know the use of social media has enabled the spread of a variety of views, including, unfortunately, Holocaust distortion,” Germain said. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in antisemitism over the last couple of years, and Holocaust distortion is a form of antisemitism.”

The special envoy for Holocaust issues was established as a senior foreign service position in 1999. Its mission is to develop and implement US policy to return Holocaust-era assets to their rightful owners, secure compensation for Nazi-era wrongs, and ensure that the Holocaust is remembered and commemorated appropriately.

“Other parts of Holocaust distortion that we see by social media users is minimizing the effects of the Holocaust, saying that fewer Jews were killed than the overwhelming evidence and eyewitness accounts prove; trying to excuse and explain the Holocaust, and downplay and minimize the seriousness of the tragedy, and that’s all part of what we see,” Germain said. “People use social media platforms to connect with each other. And unfortunately, sometimes reinforce each other’s false narratives about the Holocaust. But technology and social media platforms can also be very powerful tools for spreading the truth.”

 International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in Malmo (credit: Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency/via REUTERS) International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in Malmo (credit: Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency/via REUTERS)

How do you tackle holocaust distortion?

“One way is just to raise attention to the issue. Another thing that we do is we work with IHRA, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and produce, for example, papers on how you identify Holocaust distortion and denial and what are the things that policymakers can do about it. Part of it is educating government officials, educating law enforcement officials, educating a whole range of influencers including teachers and journalists to identify that.

“Facebook is trying to take down postings that involve Holocaust denial and distortion, and they’re trying to send users to reliable sources when they search something on the Holocaust,” Germain explained.

She said that the United States embraces the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

“One of the things that are going on right now is we’re all working to encourage sports clubs, especially football clubs, to embrace the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” said Germain. “And quite a number of football clubs have done so. That’s really important because that gets to education and to helping to educate the sports fans about what is antisemitism, what kind of statements are antisemitic, and encouraging sports clubs as well as government to take a stance against antisemitism.”

On restitution efforts, Germain said, “Our mission is trying to achieve a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors and their heirs. Some countries have almost completed the restitution and compensation that they committed to under the Terezin Declaration. Other countries still have a long way to go. We are trying to encourage the countries that have not completed restitution, and are setting up a process so that survivors or their heirs have some way under the country’s laws and regulations to make claims, whether that’s for private property, real estate that was seized, artwork, or religious and communal property.”

Luxembourg agreed to settle communal property claims and establish an education center, she said, and the Netherlands Railway, which profited from transporting Jews during World War II, agreed to compensate survivors of deportation and to contribute to memorials for the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews who were murdered after being transported.

“The Netherlands changed its art restitution policy, so it no longer favors the country’s museums over the owners from whom the artwork had been confiscated. and that is really quite a big deal,” she added. “Dealing with confiscated art is only one of the outstanding issues across the range of issues that we deal with. My office doesn’t deal with individual claims. We’re working to encourage governments to set up the process, whether it’s passing a law or setting up a commission that enables people to submit claims.

“Hungary, for example, has completed a lot of its commitments toward addressing communal property and addressing private property, although there are always individual problems that remain in every country,” she said. “But Hungary still has a few other areas to work on. Countries like Croatia, Poland, of course, passed amendments to a law in August that essentially closed off one avenue for restitution or compensation. And we very much regretted seeing that happen but are confident that there will still be some way of addressing these important Holocaust-era issues.”