Germany will take on IHRA presidency with enormous political dedication

As the frequency of attacks and abuse increases, we must rise to meet the challenge.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (photo credit: Courtesy)
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On March 3, Germany assumed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance presidency for one year. The IHRA is a network of governmental representatives and experts whose purpose is to promote Holocaust education, remembrance and research. Germany will host its first general assembly of the alliance in June in Berlin and subsequently in November in Leipzig. It is Germany’s second term as chair of the IHRA, which was formed in 2000.
In light of the German historical responsibility for the Holocaust, holding the IHRA presidency bears an enormous importance for the federal government. It is part of our firm commitment to maintain the memory of the Holocaust for our children and future generations.
We are aware that we are at a decisive point in time. Liberal democracy and its values – liberty, freedom of speech, the rule of law – are questioned by many worldwide. The number of antisemitic attacks is on the rise, with a record number of incidents reported in major Western democracies, including the United States, France, Great Britain and in my country, Germany. Social media has become a vehicle for antisemitism, racism and hate speech.
As the frequency of attacks and abuse increases, we must rise to meet the challenge.
Against this background, we have given ourselves three priorities for our presidency.
First, we must challenge distortion and denial of the Holocaust. We plan to establish a task force to this end. We believe: Facts do matter. As personal testimonies will be less and less available to us, creating a vacuum, “fake news” or manipulative narratives will spread more easily. Social media provide an exquisite tool to translate memories of the past into the present of young people and create online commemorative activities.
But they also bear risks of promoting historical inaccuracies. Therefore such new instruments need to be part of a broader framework guiding memory and remembrance. We consider it the responsibility of the IHRA to actively counter any Holocaust distortion and denial, since we are convinced that distortion can allow for more violent and more dangerous forms of Holocaust denial and antisemitism to arise.
Already before its well-known working definition of antisemitism (2016), IHRA in 2013 developed a working definition of Holocaust distortion and denial. It makes clear that any effort to distort the facts must be countered. Both definitions also provide guidance to differentiate what is antisemitism and distortion, and what is not. Germany aims to make them known to a wider public: The fight against antisemitism requires active engagement of actors from all segments of society. Germany adopted the working definition of antisemitism in 2017 and applies it in practice in full, including its examples.
Second, we will work to promote the IHRA 2020 ministerial declaration. It consists of 14 concrete measures that will promote the IHRA’s ultimate objective: to ensure the world remembers the Holocaust and create a world without genocide. The declaration includes commitments to counter antisemitism and honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma. The declaration was endorsed by 35 countries and various international organizations in January.
Lastly, education is key to fostering remembrance and countering antisemitism. Therefore, during our IHRA chairmanship, we plan to promote the IHRA recommendations on teaching and learning about the Holocaust. The recommendations were adopted by the IHRA last year and are currently being translated into the languages of all IHRA member countries. They deliver arguments on why the Holocaust should be taught at school, and provide practical guidance on how. In Germany, the recommendations have been presented to all levels of government, and will also be brought to the attention of the wider public.
This transfer of knowledge is closely linked to a broader effort to shape a remembrance culture that will allow future generations to understand the horrors of the past. Unfortunately many of the survivors may not be among us any more in the coming decade or two. Their testimonials and reports today are the most authentic and most convincing way to keep alive the memory of the Shoah. While memorials and archives remain highly important, we might need to find ways to actively reach out to the young generations, e.g. through the digital sphere. We owe a “culture of remembrance,” which speaks the language of its time, to the millions of victims of Nazi persecution.
The IHRA is a uniquely positioned forum to take all these priorities forward, as a body that brings together both experts and governments. This interface allows the alliance to impact discussions related to the Holocaust in the political arena.
It is with enormous political dedication that Germany is taking on its IHRA presidency. We will work in close coordination with our partners, including Israel, who share the same mission. We will work to ensure our priorities will have an effect not only in the academic realm, but also on daily lives of people. We are also making sure the guidance the IHRA provides, in addition to being implemented in its member countries, will be translated to the local and municipal level in Germany. Germany will remain a staunch supporter of the IHRA as it has been ever since its inception in 2000.
The writer is the German ambassador to Israel.