International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance23 Nov 2016 15:00
Early in November 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) met in Iaşi, a city with great resonance because of the pogrom in June 1941. During the conference more than 200 diplomats and experts on the Holocaust worked together on commemorating and educating about the Holocaust. The seven-strong Dutch IHRA delegation looks back on this second meeting under the Romanian chairmanship of the IHRA.
The Dutch delegation. From left to right, Annemiek Gringold, Karel Berkhoff, Kees van Baar, Karen Polak, Marc van Berkel, Floris van Dijk and Niels Weitkamp.
As holders of the IHRA chairmanship, the Romanians showed courage in choosing to hold the conference in Iaşi.
‘A terrible pogrom took place in Iaşi in June 1941. There are few places where collaboration with the Holocaust is so tangible. Having the political conviction to take responsibility for that black page in Romanian history is important, and it is visible in various places around the city.” (Annemiek Gringold, curator Nationaal Holocaust Museum, Amsterdam)
Concerns about Poland
Romania’s openness to its Holocaust history seems in contrast with the Polish state’s approach to its Holocaust past.
‘The IHRA expressed its concern about existing and proposed Polish laws that limit academic and educational freedoms in order to preserve ‘Poland’s good name’. People who consider that the Polish nation is partially responsible for crimes ascribed to the Germans could be prosecuted under the new laws. The Polish government has invited a group of IHRA experts to Warsaw to pursue this matter.’ (Karel Berkhoff, researcher Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide studies/NIOD, Amsterdam)
‘The delegations had an excellent discussion about the importance of freedom of speech and research.’ (Kees van Baar, Dutch Ambassador for Human Rights and acting head of delegation)
Success in the Czech Republic
The IHRA also contributed to a success in the Czech Republic. After years of protests, it has been agreed to create a memorial at the former Lety concentration camp.
‘The IHRA chairman spoke to the Czech authorities in July 2016 about removing a pig farm from the site in Lety that had been a concentration camp for Roma from 1942 to 1943. This visit and the persistence of the IHRA played an important role in the cabinet’s decision to shut down the farm. IHRA delegates will continue to offer their expertise with future developments, such as archaeological research and the creation of a worthy memorial.’ (Karen Polak, Education department, Anne Frank House)
Romanian historians talk about the mass graves near Iaşi, where the victims of the pogrom and the ‘death train’ of 1941 were buried.
Violence and prevention today
The IHRA does not only work on commemorating, researching and teaching about the Holocaust; it also connects the events with the present day, by focusing on genocide and refugees.
‘The IHRA wants to contribute to the current debate about preventing genocide. Inspiration for this can be found in a recently completed IHRA study, A Matter of Comparison, which lists organisations that draw comparisons between the Holocaust and other genocides. During the conference, the Swiss Special Envoy, Mô Bleeker, invited the IHRA to share its expertise on the Holocaust with organisations working to prevent genocide. (Niels Weitkamp, Adviser, the National Committee for 4 and 5 Mei, Amsterdam)
‘I am proud that the IHRA is launching a blog offering educational material on possible and useful comparisons between the Holocaust and the Second World War, and the current refugee situation. This blog can be found at www.holocaustremembrance.com from 16 December 2016. In this too, the IHRA is exploring connections with current affairs.’ (Marc van Berkel, teacher trainer, HAN University of Applied Sciences)
The future of the IHRA
The Netherlands plays an active role in the IHRA and will remain involved with the future redevelopment of the organisation.
‘The aims of the IHRA have a clear relationship with questions about citizenship, combating antisemitism and the current refugee question (…) The Netherlands will continue to make an active contribution to the IHRA, not least because of our shared ambition to fight antisemitism. (Floris van Dijk, Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, quoting from a recent letter from State Secretary Martin van Rijn to the parliament).
The IHRA delegations consists of seven staff from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health, Welfare and Sport, the Anne Frank House, the HAN University of Applied Sciences ,the Jewish Cultural Quarter, the National Committee 4 and 5 May, and the Dutch Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide studies (NIOD).