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At Holocaust Conference in Prague, Importance of Vigilance is Stressed

July 1, 2003
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Diplomats and Holocaust survivor organizations must work to prevent incidents like Romania’s recent denial that its country’s leaders collaborated in the Holocaust.

So said Arthur Avnon, Israel’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, at a conference here last week on contemporary Holocaust issues.

Avnon, who said he was named Arthur after a non-Jew who helped his parents during the Nazi occupation of Romania, said that promoting education about the Holocaust was not just a duty for representatives of Israel, but a “personal campaign we are all engaged in, day in and day out.”

The government of Israel decided to make clear to the Romanian government “in the most forceful way” that its statement had caused a crisis between the two nations, Avnon said.

Romania later apologized and changed its position, but the damage already had been done, Avnon said.

The June 23-24 forum, chiefly organized by the European Association of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust, brought together Holocaust rescuers and survivors, students, teachers and scholars from 11 European nations, including the Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Belgium and Slovenia.

Themes of the seminar included Holocaust education and manifestations of anti-Semitism, as well as the work of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations department.

Some of the delegates were divided on the best way to tackle racism and anti-Semitism.

Frank Reiss, a Holocaust survivor and former director of European affairs for the Anti-Defamation League in New York, said that while education about the Holocaust was important, the main weapon should be strict legislation, strictly enforced.

“In America, if you decide in a nice American town to wear an SS uniform, you can do so,” he said. “In Germany if you do it, you get three years in the slammer. It’s effective. If somebody cannot be educated in this way, maybe he can be deterred in a strict legislative way.”

Mordechai Paldiel, director of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations Department, told delegates that Jews needed non-Jewish allies, especially among Christians, in order to fight anti-Semitism.

He suggested that Jews needed to ask church leaders to join them in containing anti-Semitism, particularly as much anti-Jewish feeling has its origins in churches.

“A few months ago I was in the States and I listened to a preacher from Fort Lauderdale on TV,” he commented. “He was talking about the death of Jesus and was saying that until this day the Jews had not asked forgiveness for crucifying Jesus.

“The French burned Joan of Arc at the stake but nobody blames the French today; the Greeks poisoned Socrates but nobody blames the Greeks today,” Paldiel noted.

The director of the survivors group, Vera Egermayer, said the conference was an opportunity for those involved in fighting Holocaust denial to network.

“We know that Holocaust work is often very fragmented and compartmentalized, and people are not aware of what others are doing,” she told delegates.

“What we have tried to do is draw some threads together — we have crossed national boundaries, created a forum for child survivors,” Egermayer added. “What I personally consider the most important boundary we have crossed is the generational one. Here we are enabling teachers and students, young people, to meet and be with the last of the witnesses, both the survivors and the rescuers.”

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