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Reverse Current Trends

For decades, government officials, survivors, historians, educators, and institutions have invested substantial effort and resources in documenting and understanding Holocaust history. These efforts, which have reached millions in schools and universities, at museums and memorials, and in public discourse, have aimed to encourage reflective engagement with that history. Yet, current trends in Holocaust distortion are spreading and intensifying, presenting new and rapidly-evolving challenges. Unfortunately, the substantial work that has taken place thus far has not been effective enough in preventing troubling distortions. The situation requires urgent action at all levels. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stands ready to deepen its transatlantic engagement in reciprocal partnership with European governments, regional multinational organizations, and nongovernmental organizations that share these concerns.

What is Required

Based on its findings, the Museum believes that the following efforts are needed to help reverse current trends:

  • New ideas and approaches, while expanding and amplifying what has been most effective up to now

  • Regular assessment of the effectiveness of various strategies

  • Greater emphasis on communicating the relevance of the Holocaust today, taking into account a variety of different audience perspectives, as well as the connections between memory policies and the stability of democratic institutions, the commitment to civic responsibility, and the preservation of freedom and human rights

  • Region-wide strategies to confront region-wide trends, supported by enhanced transnational and transatlantic cooperation by governments and intergovernmental organizations

  • Innovation in education that is rigorous, relevant, and designed to cultivate critical thinking in the targeted audience, whether they be students, leaders, officials, or the general public

  • Special efforts to reach government and civil service professionals

  • Enhanced use of digital education and public communication strategies to combat Holocaust distortion

Guided by these general principles, the Museum offers the following initial set of specific ideas in order to encourage further conversation, cooperation, and robust action.

Research and Educational Infrastructure for Holocaust Memory

National governments and intergovernmental organizations should:

  1. Monitor the impact of public memory and education efforts by conducting periodic, coordinated public opinion surveys to measure attitudes toward Holocaust commemoration and education and the pervasiveness of distorted narratives;

  2. Support research on the regional, transnational, and cross-border nature of both the Holocaust and Holocaust memory, denial, and distortion (including how denial and distortion are introduced and spread across borders online and through social media); and

  3. Expand and strengthen the institutional infrastructure of organizations and memorial sites that (a) provide accurate and authoritative information about the Holocaust based on rigorous academic standards, (b) conduct outcomes-based research on the efficacy of Holocaust memory policies, and (c) develop measures to counter common manifestations of Holocaust distortion.

Far-right activists participate in a 2019 march honoring Hristo Lukov, the leader of the ultranationalist wartime Union of Bulgarian National Legions. —Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

Guidelines and Standards

The European Union, together with the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), should develop guidelines for governments to counter manifestations of Holocaust denial and distortion. These should include a call for political leaders and public figures to speak out strongly and promptly when Holocaust denial or distortion occurs, as well as vetting standards and procedures to ensure that grant support is denied to nongovernmental organizations that engage in Holocaust denial or distortion.

National governments and the European Union should establish guidelines to prevent the rehabilitation of convicted war criminals and other individuals and groups who were directly involved in the advocacy and/or perpetration of Holocaust-era crimes.

Training of Public Servants

In order to better prepare national and international public servants to counter Holocaust distortion in the course of their work to protect the security of individuals and defend fundamental human rights:

1. Training programs should be organized by:

  • National governments and the European Union for civil servants, law enforcement professionals and judges, and military leadership (including through existing structures such as the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL)); and

  • National and multilateral bodies of parliamentarians for legislators and their staff.

These programs should communicate:

  • The actions and roles of their profession during the Holocaust, and the relevance of understanding those failures to the fulfillment of their current professional responsibilities; and

  • How distorted historical narratives facilitate hate speech, antisemitism, racism, intolerance, and xenophobia.

There are some programs of this type at the national level, but none that reach across national boundaries and address the roles and responsibilities of civil servants, law enforcement and other officials as a European-wide phenomenon during the Holocaust.

2. The European Union, Council of Europe, and OSCE should provide training in identifying and monitoring Holocaust denial and distortion for those officials who, at both the national and multilateral levels, monitor commitments to combat antisemitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance, as well as to protect democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

3. A transatlantic training initiative should be established, drawing from the history of the Holocaust and other sources, to enhance the ability of military officers to recognize and confront the potential for mass crimes and human rights violations against civilian population groups labeled as “different” or outside the “national community.” NATO and the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies could be partners in this initiative.