Holocaust museums study ways to counter genocide

PARIS (JTA) — An international symposium in Paris looked at ways to improve often sluggish international cooperation on genocide prevention.

Senior international human rights officials gathered Monday and Tuesday at the French Memorial de la Shoah in an event that was convened also with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Samantha Power, senior director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the U.S. National Security Council, said she and other U.S. officials traveled to Paris to help streamline proactive, multilateral responses to the threat of genocide.

“If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible,” she said Monday, the main day of the conference. Tuesday featured smaller group discussions.

She said the symposium was especially important because “it is not simply about studying the past.”

American officials said they hoped to urge European leaders to create “structural focal points,” or “hot-lines,” within their governments and lead institutions that would be devoted to preventing atrocities. The Obama administration has created a government position working exclusively on stopping genocide. One official noted in an off-the-record comment that there was no similar European counterpart.

Conference participant Markus Loning, Germany’s commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid, said he was going back home to “feed new ideas from this conference” to his colleagues.

“We need to restructure some of our slower bureaucratic mechanisms to have something like a focal point, where we can deal with preventing genocide,” he said, adding that “This was a great initiative by the two Holocaust museums.”

The Paris-based Holocaust museum has focused traditionally on historical fact-building and preserving memory, said its director, Jacques Fredj. But with the symposium, co-created with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has a longer tradition of working to prevent genocide, the French museum has embarked on new territory.

“This is the first time that we address this subject,” Fredj said. “For years we thought that ‘Never again’ would suffice on an educational level … but the reality is that it doesn’t.”
 

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