Sunday, 28 Feb 2021 - 16 of Adar, 5781

UNESCO, UN and IHRA to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day to counter denial and distortion

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Education plays a crucial role in combatting antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion: “By transmitting the history of this event, we uphold the principles of justice by refusing the hateful logic of National Socialism, and by challenging those who deny the Holocaust or relativize the crimes committed against Jews and other persecuted groups, because they seek to perpetuate the racism and antisemitism that caused the genocide”, said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said.

Antisemitism, including the denial and distortion of the facts of the Holocaust, is rising across the world with devastating consequences for individuals, communities and democracies.

Holocaust denial and distortion are symptoms of increasing disinformation, hate speech and prejudice worldwide. A Swedish report showed that 35 percent of social media posts referencing Jews included antisemitic stereotypes and hostile statements. The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated this trend and has heralded an explosion of antisemitic conspiracy theories on social media platforms, many of which draw their inspiration from historic antisemitic tropes. Protests against coronavirus restrictions in many European countries were reported to be permeated with far right and antisemitic rhetoric. 

For the first time, the United Nations and UNESCO will jointly organize a series of events, in partnership with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), to mark the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Due to restrictions put in place because of COVID-19, and to reach global audiences, the events will be entirely online. Events will include a commemoration ceremony on 27 January 2021 – International Holocaust Remembrance Day- and a panel discussion on Holocaust denial and distortion, broadcast by UNTV and CNN, in addition to  exhibitions in Paris and UNESCO oOffices around the world.

Education plays a crucial role in combatting it: “By transmitting the history of this event, we uphold the principles of justice by refusing the hateful logic of National Socialism, and by challenging those who deny the Holocaust or relativize the crimes committed against Jews and other persecuted groups, because they seek to perpetuate the racism and antisemitism that caused the genocide”, said UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Director-General Azoulay, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pay tribute to the victims of Nazi persecution in an online ceremony held from 17.00 to 18.00 CET. The event is followed by an online panel discussion on Holocaust denial and distortion from 18.00 to 19.00 CET, featuring historian Deborah Lipstadt, a leader in the fight against Holocaust denial, Philippe Sands, best-selling author and lawyer, Hella Pick, journalist and Kindertransport survivor, Marian Turski, President of the Jewish Historical Institute Association and Vice-President of the International Auschwitz Committee, and Robert Williams, the Chair of the IHRA Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust denial. The commemoration is held jointly by UNESCO, the United Nations and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), currently under the German presidency. The event is supported and partially produced by CNN International.

The challenge of education in our times is monumental: 63 per cent of young Americans do not know how many died in the Holocaust; 47 per cent of Germans surveyed in 2020 responded that Germany was ‘not particularly guilty’.

During the storming of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, a man was photographed wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase ‘Camp Auschwitz’ above an image of a skull and crossbones,  videos circulated on social media showing an Israeli journalist being attacked by another insurrectionist with antisemitic slurs. Remembering accurately and teaching about the Holocaust is a vital tool to counter this ancient hatred.

Later this week, UNESCO, the United Nations, IHRA and the European Commission will launch the communications campaign #ProtectTheFacts, which will raise awareness and educate about the dangers of Holocaust denial and distortion.

In Paris, UNESCO also hosts photographer Luigi Toscano’s exhibition ‘Lest We Forget’ displaying the portraits of more than 200 survivors of Nazi persecution outside UNESCO headquarters from 18 January to 12 February.

Working alongside the United Nations Outreach Programme on the Holocaust, UNESCO is the only UN agency with a mandate to promote Holocaust education and the prevention of genocide.

 

 

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