PRAGUE (Sep. 8)
The Czech Republic is continuing its examination of Holocaust issues long ignored under the country’s 40 years of Communist rule with a conference at the country’s most notorious concentration camp.
The conference, “Phenomenon Holocaust,” is part of a two-year-old initiative by Vaclav Havel, the country’s playwright-president, to engage the country in a dialogue about its own history.
“This society hasn’t had any chance to talk about its own history since 1938. This is it,” said Tomas Jelinek, Havel’s specialist in Holocaust insurance issues, who is helping to organize the event at the Theresienstadt concentration camp and Prague Castle on Oct. 6-8.
Participants will include representatives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and Poland’s State Museum at Auschwitz. Historians Yehuda Bauer and Raul Hilberg will be joined by Yad Vashem’s Avner Shalev; Miles Lerman, the chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council; and academics, teachers, and other Holocaust specialists.
Under communism, the Holocaust was discussed only as an adjunct to the suffering of Communists at the hands of fascists during the war, Jelinek said.
“And there was total silence regarding the Romani (Gypsy) Holocaust,” he added. “Havel wanted to emphasize the history of the victims.”
The conference is also an effort to refocus discussion of the Holocaust, Jelinek said.
“It’s not only about American Jewish organizations claiming property,” he said. “We’re talking about what happened to people here.”
Another conference participant, David Singer, the director of research for the American Jewish Committee, welcomed the conference’s goals.
“Of late, there has been too much focus on money issues,” he said. “Havel and others want to bring the discussion back to issues of memory, education and the lessons of the Holocaust.”
Jelinek said he was pleased at the attention the Czech Cabinet, which is distinct from the president’s office, is paying to the conference.
“The Cabinet is giving half a million crowns [just over $14,000] to support publications based on the conference, and the Ministry of Education has been instructed to find ways to teach the Holocaust,” he said.