Protecting the memory of the Holocaust

November 15, 2016 by Andre Oboler
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The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has held a conference in Romania attended by Australian experts.

The Police Station where Jews were rounded up and either shot or transported to the death trains

The Police Station where Jews were rounded up and either shot or transported to the death trains

The IHRA is an intergovernmental body whose purpose is to place political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance and research both nationally and internationally. There are currently 31 member countries as well as a range of international partners including the United Nations, UNESCO, OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) of the European Union and the Claims Conference.

Australia is currently an observer and attended its third IHRA meeting in Iasi, Romania, last week. The Australian delegation at the meeting was headed by Deputy Ambassador to Germany, Lauren Bain, and included four experts, Pauline Rockman, Sue Hampel, Prof. Suzanne Rutland and Dr Andre Oboler.

During the meeting the IHRA Chair expressed a strong desire to see Australia move from Observer Status to Liaison Status and then full membership as swiftly as possible. Moving forward requires a formal decision from the Australian Government, which is currently under consideration, then a formal vote at a future IHRA Plenary. The UK’s delegation, headed by Sir Eric Pickles, has offered assistance through the process.

The meeting included working groups and committees run by the experts, the plenary where diplomats took the experts ideas forward, and visits to local historic sites including those of the 1941 Iasi pogrom where at least 13,266 Jews killed by Romanian authorities.  The old police station, where some Jews were rounded up for the death trains while others were shot in courtyard, today contains a permanent photographic exhibition of the pogrom.

The meeting itself tackled a wide range of issues, but the most concerning involved a new Polish law, with a three year prison term, for criminalising those “who publicly and against the facts, accuse the Polish nation, or the Polish state, [of being] responsible or complicit in Nazi crimes committed by the III German Reich.” While intended to tackle Holocaust distortion which seeks to shift the blame for Nazi death camps away from the Nazis who established them in occupied Poland and on to the Poles, the law is potentially far wider in its reach. There was significant concern that it would stifle legitimate research into Polish involvement in atrocities during the Holocaust.

The investigation by a Polish prosecutor into Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross from Princeton University, an expert on Polish involvement in Holocaust, caused significant concern. The Chairs of IHRA’s working groups and committees issued a statement expressing their concern over the way the law will impact research and scholarship and the IHRA Chair called on the Polish representatives to convey the statement to their Government. IHRA also called on Poland to meet with legal experts from IHRA to discuss possible solution to prevent the law over-reaching

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