On 19 January 2020, 34 IHRA ministers adopted a new declaration on the tasks and aims of the IHRA. For me, the most important sentence in this Ministerial Declaration reads:
Pledge to the victims and survivors that they shall never be forgotten and that their legacy will be kept alive.
Remembrance has no end. In all eternity, we will continue to remember those murdered and those who survived. We will do everything we can to ensure that the legacy of the murdered men, women and children remains inscribed in the memory of humanity. Mr and Mrs Michalski, Mr Schwarzbaum, you join us today representing all survivors and I promise you that we will not forget your testimony. We know how painful it can be for you to recount your experiences. You are doing so to make young people immune to the allure of evil. For that I thank you most sincerely.
I would like to thank the Luxembourg chairmanship, I thank you, Georges Santer, that under your leadership we successfully adopted the Ministerial Declaration.
Not all that long ago, when presented with the gas chambers, a visitor to the Sachsenhausen Memorial uttered these words: “If you want to know what a gas chamber looks like, you have to look at them in the USA ... in World War II there were only gas chambers in the USA.” The founder of the environmental organisation Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, described the Holocaust as “just another f***ery in human history”.
What is shocking and threatening here is that these statements are being made in a political atmosphere that encourages right-wing extremists. The IHRA wants to counter this trend by raising awareness and providing hard facts.
The German chairmanship of the IHRA will thus focus on combating Holocaust denial and relativisation. The IHRA member states adopted a working definition on this in 2013 and developed internationally agreed criteria on what these terms mean. Starting at home, we will launch a campaign for the acceptance and application of this working definition in all IHRA member states. Greece, who assumes the chairmanship after Germany, has set a good example here. I look forward to further cooperation as part of the troika.
This year, we will set up a Global Task Force to combat Holocaust denial and relativisation. The Federal Foreign Office is also providing one million euros to support an IHRA project designed to strengthen international exchange on this topic. I would like to thank the German Bundestag, Ms Pau, and the Federal Ministry of Finance, particularly State Secretary Gatzer, for making this possible.
How can we deal with this issue in memorial sites? What can we do about facts being twisted on the internet? How do we counter revisionist statements made by politicians? A network of international experts is going to develop and share successful strategies for responding to these issues.
Every denial and trivialisation of the Holocaust is at the same time an expression of antisemitism. Thinking back to the antisemitic attacks we have seen in recent years, it is shocking that a crude understanding of the Holocaust all too often fuelled the perpetrator’s motives. Jews are assigned at least partial responsibility for the Holocaust. The number of victims is played down.
It is extraordinary that even the deceased can be the target of hatred. That is one of the reasons why antisemitism needs our special attention. That is why such great importance attaches to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It helps us remember those murdered and at the same time serves as a reminder for the future that marginalisation and hatred pose a threat to our entire society. And that an elected representative of the people calls this Memorial a memorial of shame is shameful in itself. It shows how relativising the Holocaust fuels antisemitism in society.
During our chairmanship, we will work to ensure that all IHRA member states and other countries, for example in Latin America, accept the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. Germany adopted it in extended form as early as 2017. In applying the definition, all examples cited therein must be considered. After all, antisemitism is often disguised as criticism of the State of Israel. Yes, you are allowed to take a critical stance on the policies of a government, also that of Israel. But the examples show where criticism stops and antisemitism begins, namely where double standards are applied and Israel’s existence is called into question.
Now we need to work to ensure all states commit to a working definition and breathe life into it. I am therefore very pleased that the Federal Government Antisemitism Commissioner is with us here today. Together with his colleagues from the Länder, he engages in huge efforts to anchor the definition in the day-to-day work of teachers, police officers and the judiciary. I am also pleased that towns and communities and often also civil society have committed to the working definition. It is my hope that applying the definition will help Jews in our country to feel safer once more and put their suitcases back up in the attic.
The year 2020 offers many opportunities for Germany to advance the fight against antisemitism, antigypsyism and the denial and trivialisation of the Holocaust. As chair of the IHRA, during the EU Council Presidency and as chair of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. How important, how crucial that is, and how deadly the threat to minorities has become is not something I need to spell out here: Kassel, Halle, Pittsburgh and most recently Hanau. Those who do not want this to carry on need to act. And those who act need to know the past. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance raises awareness of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Sinti and Roma, calls them to mind and drives research on them.
Greater awareness of the Holocaust is urgently needed. Although the Holocaust is a compulsory item on the curriculum in many stages of schooling all across Germany, 40 percent of 18-34 year olds said in a survey that they did not or barely knew what it was about. In December 2019, the IHRA adopted new recommendations for lessons on the Holocaust. These provide teachers with information at the cutting-edge of international research. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage them to use it. I am delighted that the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany is working in this direction.
Minister of State Roth just alluded to the many unknown places where genocide happened. That is also part of our work to increase awareness of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Sinti and Roma. It is not least thanks to the IHRA that through determined dialogue, expert advice and on-site visits appropriate remembrance concepts have been or are being developed for a number of these places.
In the Ministerial Declaration of 19 January 2020, the IHRA emphasises that it also sees research on the genocide of the Sinti and Roma as one of its tasks. It notes that the long neglect of this genocide helped create the situation in which Roma are discriminated against and face prejudice to this day. They are, as the murders in Hanau horrifyingly prove, victims of marginalisation and racism.
Germany will therefore support the ongoing work of the IHRA experts on a working definition of antigypsyism and if possible bring this work to a successful conclusion. Today, the IHRA is presumably more relevant than at any stage in its twenty-year history. Germany’s engagement within the IHRA is embedded in our commitment to multilateralism. We want to use the German chairmanship to strengthen the IHRA and raise its profile as THE leading international institution for Holocaust education, remembrance and research for the present and the future. I ask you to help bring the work of the IHRA into our societies.