UNESCO highlights responsibility to educate on the history of the Holocaust


© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova marked the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust by a series of symbolic events on the theme “From Words to Genocide – Antisemitic Propaganda and the Holocaust,” on 27 January 2016.

”This day goes to the heart of UNESCO’s identity, to the core of our action for peace. UNESCO was born in the wake of the Second World War, in response to the destruction and the genocide of the Jewish people carried out by the Nazi regime,” she declared on this occasion.

UNESCO was fully engaged in events to mark this international day. Alongside French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belcakem, Irina Bokova witnessed the signing of a Convention on education against antisemitism and for global citizenship at the Shoah Memorial in Paris. “Teaching the history of the Holocaust is more important than  ever, to fight against youth radicalization and overcome violent extremism. We must leave nothing pass us by. Let us share intelligence and dignity against barbarity. This is our way of honoring the memory of the dead and alerting the living,” she underlined.

Two exhibits were inaugurated at UNESCO Headquarters on Nazi propaganda. “A for Adolf,” organized with the Wiener Library in London, analyses the role of Nazi propaganda in the education of young children, and is presented on the fences of UNESCO until 28 February 2016.  “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” an exhibit organized in partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, presents an illustrated analysis of the propaganda mechanisms of the Nazi state. This exhibition, inaugurated by the Director-General and Ms Sara Bloomfield, Director of the Museum, resonates with the mandate of UNESCO to build the defenses of peace and give every person the tools to respond to lies and the falsification of history through education, knowledge of history and of the means of mass manipulation. This exhibit runs at UNESCO Headquarters through 11 February. UNESCO and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are further reinforcing their partnership in the framework of a global programme for teaching the history of the Holocaust, with a series of conferences and teacher training workshops.

The ceremony in memory of the victims of the Holocaust featured interventions by Mr Eric de Rothschild, President of the Shoah Memorial and longstanding partner of UNESCO, H.E. Mr Carmel Shama Hacohen, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Israel to UNESCO, and the evening’s guest of honor, Mr Roman Kent, survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp. In a poignant account of the dehumanization and inferno of the camps, he declared, « Indifference and silence: this is why the Holocaust happened. The response to tyranny is engagement. We must all remember, we have the obligation to instruct future generations what happens when prejudice and hatred are allowed to flourish. We must teach tolerance and understanding at school and at home. No one should be a bystander. This should be an 11th Commandment.” The ceremony was organized with the support of the World Jewish Congress, the Memorial of the Shoah and Member States including Germany, Austria, France, Israel, Latvia, Monaco and the United States.

On this occasion, the Director-General also announced the launch of a new research project in partnership with the European Commission and the George Eckert Institute to conduct a detailed analysis of the content of textbooks and pupils’ perceptions of the Holocaust across all European countries.

Echoing Mr Kent’s appeal to vigilance, Irina Bokova said “Prevention is about learning to foil propaganda traps, to dismantle the criminal logic behind the discourse of denial and the relativizing of the genocide. It is about helping to compare, to put in perspective, to anticipate and detect the early signs of violence. It is to see that there exists a specific and persistent hatred towards Jews, and to understand that the history of the Holocaust can help us to fight against all forms of racism today,” she concluded.