Prague conference eyes anti-Semitism

PRAGUE, Oct. 23 (JTA) — Failure to combat Holocaust denial could lead to the failure of civilization itself, a survivor told a conference here. Czech Jewish writer Arnost Lustig was one of a number of speakers from Israel, the United States, France and the Czech Republic who gathered this week to discuss anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe in the years since the fall of communism. The conference covered the beginnings of modern anti-Semitism in the region as well as issues relating to the current extremist scene. In his speech, Lustig said the issue of Holocaust denial was not simply about the truth of the Holocaust, but whether mankind would allow lies to be presented as truth. “We are witnesses to an attempt at colossal deceit over history,” he said, arguing that if mankind believed the lies it would doom itself to a repeat of history. “The fate of human beings,” as well as the meaningfulness of human history, “is at stake,” he said. Lustig also warned that people should not underestimate what appears to be an innocent joke at the expense of Jews. “Jews are first defamed and denigrated and then killed,” he said. “To underestimate that is tantamount to suicide.” Holocaust denial was also raised by a Czech political science student, Vaclav Nekvapil. He argued that while there was little sympathy in the Czech Republic for anti-Semitic prejudice, there was the “burning problem” of the spread of easily accessible incendiary literature, such as the works of Holocaust denier David Irving. “It is in my opinion extremely dangerous when a pseudoscientific — basically anti-Semitic — study by an author unknown to the readers is presented without any explanation whatsoever, giving the appearance of a serious historical work,” Nekvapil said. He added that Czech extremist groups on both sides of the political spectrum use anti-Semitism as part of their rhetoric. The more subtle, left-wing anti-Semitism is often overlooked, he said. Other contributors included Paris University professor Jean-Charles Szurek, who covered the question, “Is the Holocaust Talked About Too Much?” and professor Moshe Zimmermann of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who spoke on “The Dwindling of German Anti-Semitism Since 1945.” The two-day conference was hosted by Radio Free Europe and held under the auspices of Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and the president of the Czech Senate.

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