The commemorative event, “International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Renewed Commitment through Innovation and Cooperation,” featured keynote addresses from President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić, Director of ODIHR Matteo Mecacci and Chair of the IHRA Ambassador Michaela Küchler.
The two ensuing expert panels featured the focal points in these institutions tasked with tackling anti-Semitism and grassroots initiatives, bringing innovation to the field of remembrance, education and research.
Von der Leyen noted “B’nai B’rith International never wavered in its mission to fight anti-Semitism and racism, to promote Jewish life, to stand by Israel and to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. Today I am here to tell you that Europe is with you in this endeavor—because anti-Semitism strikes at the heart of our values: humanity, religious freedom, equality.”
She continued, “This year we will present the first ever European strategy to combat anti-Semitism. Holocaust remembrance and education will be an important aspect in this strategy, and we will increase our funding for projects on Holocaust remembrance and education. And in addition, last week we have launched the campaign #ProtectTheFacts which pushes back Holocaust distortion together with the United Nations, UNESCO and the IHRA. We back up our fight against Holocaust distortion and denial by legislation too. With our Digital Services Act, we make clear that online platforms must take greater responsibility for their role in disseminating and promoting such material. Because when there are attempts to deny the Holocaust, it is Europe itself that is called into question.”
In her opening remarks Küchler noted, “Remembrance has to go digital. While nothing can replace the immediacy of a story told in person, it is wonderful that we have found creative ways of remembering. This will also help us to preserve testimonies of survivors over time.”
Several of the speakers and panelists made reference to the growth of anti-Semitism that we are currently facing in Europe, with Pejčinović Burić mentioning that “We live in a time of uncertainty, when a shrill and intolerant tone too often breaks true and where there has been an increase in the incidents of anti-Semitic words and attacks.”
Mecacci noted “As the organizers of this conference [B’nai B’rith International] rightly identify, such negative trends can only be counteracted through innovation and collaboration… But we need to intensify these efforts.”
The event itself is a testament to the work being done and the commitments being made by leaders of international, regional and national level organizations alike in Europe and abroad on the fight against anti-Semitism. However, amid rising levels of hate, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and distortion both in the physical world and the online realm, institutions and organizations in Europe and around the world must take this moment to effect positive change.
Indeed, in speaking to the necessary societal response to rising levels of anti-Semitism, Azoulay said, “We are called on to assume our responsibility, that of remembering what took place yesterday and what is taking place here and now. More than ever, we need to take action and fight amnesia, the distortion of facts, and to not cede ground to liars and demagogues through the power of memory and education.”
The memory of the Shoah must be cultivated to promote commemoration in future generations as a historical marker and such informal and educational initiatives must be backed up by effective and necessary legal and legislative frameworks used in order to combat anti-Semitic hate. As B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin put it in his welcome remarks to the event, “[We are thankful that] Key international institutions have joined us to recommit their efforts to discharge an abiding duty, to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, to tackle anti-Semitism and hatred and work to foster Jewish life.”
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit bnaibrith.org.