On June 24, 2021, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the establishment of a regular German-American governmental dialogue on the Holocaust. They called on the federal national memorials of the two countries—the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe—to participate in this important initiative. These two memorial institutions have a long record of mutually beneficial cooperation and jointly welcome this new bilateral, especially at this critical moment.
The Holocaust and World War II shaped the postwar world order, and their enduring significance makes a transatlantic commitment to remembrance and education vital for the future. The bilateral offers opportunities to build stronger partnerships between the US and Europe on the governmental and non-governmental level and could not be more timely. There has been increasing concern on both sides of the Atlantic about the rising tide of misinformation and distortion of the Holocaust. A concomitant rise in antisemitism has been just one of the consequences of trivializing, minimizing, relativizing or otherwise distorting the historical record of the Holocaust or dismissing the need to commemorate the victims. In its worst manifestations, distortion has sought to transfer responsibility for the Holocaust from its perpetrators to the victims themselves.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have, along with other institutions, been regular contributors to efforts to address these challenges, by leading efforts to memorialize the dead, to teach the history and its relevance to new generations, and to provide analysis of the dynamics that today threaten understanding of the events of the mid-20th century that have so shaped our world.
The recent Protecting Memory project led by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe aimed to transform the neglected and forgotten mass graves of Jews and Roma who were murdered in mass shootings throughout the territory of present-day Ukraine into dignified sites of remembrance. Each Protecting Memory memorial site presents historical information and advances Holocaust education, both locally and continent-wide. Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, the project was carried out in cooperation with the Ukrainian Center for Holocaust Studies (Kyiv). The knowledge gained and the international network established for the project have proven indispensable to fulfilling the Memorial’s goal of combatting the re-emergence of antisemitic narratives and the relativization of Holocaust history. The Foundation’s report on the project, Protecting Memory: Protecting and Memorializing Holocaust Mass Graves in Ukraine, is available here. The follow-up project Connecting Memory aims to expand local memory activities by providing mentoring programs in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently undertook a research project to examine Holocaust distortion, its purveyors, and related increases in manifestations of antisemitism in eleven countries where the Holocaust took place. The Museum’s research focused on distortion promoted or enabled by governments, political leaders, and others with substantial current or potential influence over public policy and discourse. The Museum has produced a summary of key findings and offers suggestions of possible ways to push back on current trends that the institution hopes will stimulate important conversations about how the United States and other interested countries might work together in new ways. The summary, Holocaust Memory at Risk: The Distortion of Holocaust History across Europe, is available here.
As our institutions consider next steps in the context of the new German-American bilateral dialogue, we recognize the importance of making available to the public the results of several other excellent governmental and government-associated research projects that focus on securing Holocaust memory and combatting Holocaust distortion, or which incorporate as the basis of their findings examples and specific instances of denial and distortion as manifestations of antisemitism and other prejudices. Both the Memorial and the Museum contributed in significant ways to several of the projects. Links to reports and other resources from these projects are provided below:
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, German Chairmanship, Report of the Global Task Force on Holocaust Distortion, Recognizing and Countering Holocaust Distortion: Recommendations for Policy and Decision Makers (2021)
European Commission, Handbook for the Practical Use of the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism (2021)
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Words into Action to Address Anti-Semitism. Addressing Anti-Semitism Through Education: Guidelines for Policymakers (2018)
United States Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom, 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom
Recherche- und Informationsstelle Antisemitismus (RIAS), Reports on Antisemitism in Germany (in German)
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Antisemitism: Overview of Antisemitic Incidents Recorded in the European Union, 2009-2019 (2020)
United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2020 Hate Crime Statistics
A federally chartered, nonpartisan educational institution, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as America’s national memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The Museum is dedicated to ensuring the permanence of Holocaust memory, understanding and relevance and inspires leaders and individuals worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity.
Established by the German Bundestag, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Foundation is dedicated to advancing a European perspective on the Holocaust. The Memorial advances public knowledge of the lives and struggles of Jewish individuals and families affected by the genocide all across Europe and encourages discourse on lesser-known aspects of the Holocaust, including events in the occupied lands of the Soviet Union. In addition to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Foundation is responsible for Germany’s federal Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered under the National Socialist Regime and the Memorial and Information Point for the Victims of National Socialist »Euthanasia« Killings. The Foundation’s impact has been a broadened discourse, from preoccupation with German perpetrators to a more inclusive view of the fates of victims and the interaction between perpetrators, collaborators, witnesses and the victims.