Scholars defend Polish Holocaust researcher targeted by govt

Of note and Poland’s struggle to come to terms with its history:

Scholars and historical institutions from around the world are coming to the defense of a Polish researcher who is under fire from her country’s authorities after claiming that Poles could have done more to help Jews during the Holocaust.

Barbara Engelking said in a TV interview last week that Polish Jews felt disappointed in Poles during World War II, referring to what she described as “widespread blackmailing” of Jews by Poles during the Nazi German occupation.

Since then the historian and the independent TV broadcaster have been threatened with consequences by government institutions — turning the matter into a campaign issue ahead of elections scheduled for this fall.

Poland’s conservative government and pro-government media have described the remarks by Engelking, who is Polish, as an attack on the nation. They accuse her of distorting the historical record and not giving due credit to the Poles who risked — and sometimes lost — their lives to help Jews.

It is the latest eruption of an emotional debate that has been going on for years in Poland over Polish-Jewish relations, particularly the behavior of Poles toward their Jewish neighbors during the war — when Germans committed brutal crimes against Poles, whom they considered subhuman, and against the Jews, a population they sought to exterminate in its entirety.

Poles reacted in various ways to the German treatment of the Jews. Some helped the Jews, an act punishable with execution by the occupation forces. Others denounced or blackmailed them, motivated by antisemitic hatred or for personal gain. Many Poles lived in fear and sought to survive the war without getting involved either way.

Even Polish nationalists do not deny that some Poles preyed on their Jewish compatriots, but they say a relatively recent focus in scholarship on that aspect of the war distorts a larger history of heroism by Poles who resisted the Germans. They argue it risks blaming Polish victims for German crimes.

Engelking spoke on the 80th anniversary of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. She was being interviewed by private broadcaster TVN about an exhibition she helped create on the fate of civilians in the ghetto, “Around Us A Sea of Fire,” which opened last week.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reacted to the interview with a long social media post describing Engelking’s comments as “scandalous opinions” and part of an “anti-Polish narrative.”

Morawiecki referred to the more than 7,000 Poles recognized by Israel’s Holocaust institute Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. A Polish institute is trying to document cases that have so far not been recorded.

“We know that there could be tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of such cases,” Morawiecki said.

This week Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek threatened the funding of the institution where Engelking works, the Polish Center for Holocaust Research, which is part of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

“I will not finance an institute that maintains the kind of people who just insult Poles,” Czarnek said.

He said that Poles “were the greatest allies of the Jews, and if it had not been for the Poles, many Jews would have died, many more than were killed in the Holocaust.”

According to Yad Vashem, some 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland on the eve of the Sept. 1, 1939 German invasion, and only 380,000 survived the war.

Some 3 million other Polish citizens who were not Jewish were also killed during the war.

Poland’s state broadcasting authority has also opened an investigation into TVN, which is owned by the U.S. company Warner Bros. Discovery. The broadcaster faced government criticism recently for a report claiming that Saint John Paul IIhad covered up cases of clerical abuse in his native Poland before becoming pope.

Government critics see an attempt to exploit the issue to win votes ahead of the election — as the ruling party risks losing votes to a far-right party, Confederation, which has been surging in popularity.

Liberal media and commentators warn that media and academic freedoms are being threatened.

Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan said on Twitter this week that he called Engelking to show support for “freedom of expression and of academic research, in the face of blatant and menacing attacks.”

By Friday more than 600 scholars of the Holocaust and related subjects in Poland and abroad had signed a statement expressing opposition to the “political attack” on Engelking.

They said they regard “such censorious tendencies … as extremely dangerous and unacceptable,” adding: “We object to the idea of making a subject that calls for meticulous and nuanced research — as carried out by Professor Engelking — part of an election campaign.”

The POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews, where the exhibition about civilians in the Warsaw ghetto is being shown, also defended Engelking in a statement Wednesday.

The museum argued that the feelings of disappointment expressed by Jews during the war are a “fact,” and that “they appear in almost every account of those who survived the Holocaust, as well as those who managed to leave a record of their fate, but did not survive.”

“The essence of scientific research is a dispute, but a brutal personal attack on a scientist and an outstanding authority in her field cannot be called a dispute,” it said.

Engelking more than a decade ago again angered some Poles by seeming to downplay Polish wartime suffering, saying death for Poles then “was simply a biological, natural matter … and for Jews it was a tragedy, it was a dramatic experience, it was metaphysics.”

Source: Scholars defend Polish Holocaust researcher targeted by govt

Swiss to erect 1st national memorial honoring Nazi victims

Over due, but test will be how it interprets Switzerland’s role in persecution of Jews and others during the Nazi regime:

Switzerland’s executive body agreed Wednesday to help pay for a national memorial to honor the six million Jews and other victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, in what the leading Swiss Jewish group is calling the country’s first official monument of its kind.

The Federal Council, the seven-member executive branch, approved 2.5 million Swiss francs (about $2.8 million) for the memorial that will be erected at an unspecified “central location” in the capital, Bern, at a time when the number of Holocaust survivors has dwindled and antisemitism has risen again.

“The Federal Council considers it of great importance to keep alive the memory of the consequences of National Socialism, namely the Holocaust and the fate of the six million Jews and all other victims of the National Socialist regime,” a government statement said.

Switzerland and its capital, through the move, were “creating a strong symbol against genocide, antisemitism and racism, and for democracy, the rule of law, freedom and basic individual rights,” it said.

The statement did not mention whether the memorial would make any direct reference to any Swiss role in the persecution of people during the Nazi regime in Germany.

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, an umbrella group, said Switzerland has about 60 small, private sites remembering the Holocaust and other crimes of the Nazis.

“There is, however, no official or national memorial for the numerous Swiss victims of persecution, for the thousands of refugees repelled at the borders or deported, but also for the many courageous helpers in this country,” it said, noting that the memorial would be created to honor them all.

The group says recent studies have shown that a “sizeable number” of Swiss citizens were victims of the Nazi regime, “persecuted because they were, for example, Jews, socialists, Sinti or Roma.” Both Sinti and Roma are peoples who live predominantly in eastern Europe.

It noted that thousands of people flocked toward Swiss borders during World War II seeking protection, only to be “repelled and, in many cases, sent back to certain death.”

Switzerland has long grappled with its ties to Nazi Germany — not least through a call for national introspection on the issue from its first Jewish and woman president, Ruth Dreifuss, in 1999.

The country was neutral during WWII, but a government-appointed panel in 1997 found Switzerland had taken part in over three-fourths of worldwide gold transactions by Nazi Germany’s Reichsbank — both as buyer and intermediary.

Source: Swiss to erect 1st national memorial honoring Nazi victims

Irwin Cotler: The lessons of the Holocaust remain sadly relevant today

Good piece, connecting the Holocaust to other genocides, war crimes and human rights violations, both historic and contemporary:

This year’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day was a particularly poignant historical moment of remembrance and reminder, of bearing witness, of learning and acting upon the universal lessons of history and the Holocaust.

I write in the aftermath of the 90th anniversary of the establishment in 1933 by Nazi Germany of the infamous Dachau concentration camp — where thousands were deported to during Kristallnacht — reminding us that antisemitism is toxic to democracy, an assault on our common humanity, and as we’ve learned only too painfully and too well, while it begins with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews.

I write also in the aftermath of the 81st anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, convened by the Nazi leadership to address “The final solution to the Jewish question” — the blueprint for the annihilation of European Jewry — which was met with indifference and inaction by the international community.

I write also on the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the most heroic Jewish and civilian uprising during the Holocaust, which was preceded by the deportation of 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp. There is a straight line between Wannsee and Warsaw; between the indifference of one and the courage of the other.

I write also amidst the international drumbeat of evil, reflected and represented in the unprovoked and criminal Russian invasion of Ukraine, underpinned by war crimes, crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide; the increasing assaults by China on the rules-based international order, including mass atrocities targeting the Uyghurs; the Iranian regime’s brutal and massive repression of the “women, life, freedom” protests; the mass atrocities targeting the Rohingya, Afghans and Ethiopians; and the increasing imprisonment of human rights defenders like Russian patriot and human rights hero Vladimir Kara-Murza — the embodiment of the struggle for freedom and a critic of the invasion of Ukraine — sentenced this week to 25 years in prison for telling the truth, a re-enactment of the Stalinist dictum of “give us the person and we will find the crime.”

And I write amidst an unprecedented global resurgence of antisemitic acts, incitement, and terror — of antisemitism as the oldest, longest, most enduring, and most dangerous of hatreds, a virus that mutates and metastasizes over time, but which is grounded in one foundational, historical, generic, conspiratorial trope: namely, that Jews, the Jewish people, and Israel are the enemy of all that is good and the embodiment of all that is evil.

And so at this important historical juncture, we should ask ourselves what we have learned over the past 80 years and what lessons we must act on, including the following:

• The danger of forgetting the Holocaust and the imperative of remembrance — as Nobel laureate Prof. Elie Wiesel put it, “a war against the Jews in which not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were targeted victims” — of horrors too terrible to be believed but not too terrible to have happened.

• The demonization and dehumanization of the Jew as prologue and justification for their mass murder.

• The mass murder of six million Jews — 1.5 million of whom were children — and of millions of non-Jews, remembering them not as abstract statistics, but as individuals who each had a name.

• The danger of antisemitism — the oldest, longest, most enduring of hatreds — and most lethal. If the Holocaust is a paradigm for radical evil, antisemitism is a paradigm for radical hate that must be combatted.

• The dangers of Holocaust denial and distortion — of assaults on truth and memory, and the whitewashing of the worst crimes in history.

• The danger of state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide. The Holocaust, as the Supreme Court of Canada put it, “did not begin in the gas chambers, it began with words.”

• The danger of silence in the face of evil — where silence incentivizes the oppressor, never helping the victim — and our responsibility always to protest against injustice.

• The dangers of indifference and inaction in the face of mass atrocity and genocide. What makes the Holocaust and the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda so horrific are not only the horrors themselves. What makes them so horrific is that they were preventable. Nobody could say we did not know. Just as today, with regard to mass atrocities being perpetrated against the Uyghurs, the Rohingya, and the Ukrainians — nobody can say we do not know. We know and we must act.

• The Trahison des Clercs — the betrayal of the elites — doctors and scientists, judges and lawyers, religious leaders and educators, engineers and architects. Nuremberg crimes were the crimes of Nuremberg elites. Our responsibility, therefore, is always to speak truth to power.

• The danger of cultures of impunity, and the corresponding responsibility to bring war criminals to justice. There must be no sanctuary for hate, no refuge for bigotry, no immunity for these enemies of humankind.

• The danger of the vulnerability of the powerless and the powerlessness of the vulnerable. The responsibility to give voice to the voiceless and to empower the powerless. In a word, the test of a just society is how it treats its most vulnerable.

And so, the abiding and enduring lesson: We are each, wherever we are, the guarantors of each other’s destiny. May this day be not only an act of remembrance, which it is, but a remembrance to act, which it must be — on behalf of our common humanity.

National Post

Irwin Cotler is Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, International Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He is Canada’s first Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

Source: Irwin Cotler: The lessons of the Holocaust remain sadly relevant today

Adolf Eichmann Was Ready for His Close-Up. My Father Gave It to Him.

Interesting reflections:

I was 14 the first time I saw Adolf Eichmann in person. He wore an ill-fitting suit and had tortoise shell glasses, with the bearing of a nervous accountant. He did not seem at all like someone who had engineered the deaths of millions of people, except of course that I was at his trial for genocide.

My father, Leo Hurwitz, directed the television coverage of the Eichmann trial, which was held in Jerusalem and broadcast all over the world in 1961. My dad was chosen for the position after the producer convinced both Capital Cities Broadcasting, then a small network that organized the pool coverage, and David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel, that the trial needed to be seen live. In the 1930s, my father had been one of the pioneers of the American social documentary film. In later years, he had directed two films on the Holocaust and had helped to invent many of the techniques of live television while director of production in the early days of the CBS network. Also, as a socialist, he had been blacklisted from all work in television for the previous decade, so he came cheap.

My mother and I joined my father in Jerusalem. Each day I stood in the control room and watched my father call the coverage — “Ready camera 2, take 2!” For perhaps the first time in history, a trial was being recorded, not as in the style of a newsreel, with its neutrally positioned single camera, but more like a feature film, with concealed cameras placed to cover several points of view — the witnesses’, the judges’, the attorneys’, the public’s, and of course, Eichmann’s. These were cut, one against the other, often in close-up, so that the drama became vastly more personal. The style of my father’s work would come to define this trial, and its place in historical memory, even more than Eichmann’s confession.

The prosecutor confronted Eichmann with his own words: “The fact that I have the death of 5,000,000 Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction.” The writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel Di-nur testified from the witness box about the lines of people selected for death in the different “planet” of Auschwitz. Suddenly, Di-nur collapsed with a stroke. Through it all, Eichmann’s face, as revealed in my father’s close-ups, showed no feeling except the occasional tic.

Each night my father’s work was air-shipped, on 2-inch videotape, to be broadcast in Europe and the United States. It sharpened the way the world saw the anti-Semitic depredations of the Nazis. Meanwhile, my father was plagued by the question of how fascism had risen in the first place, how educated and progressive working classes had left their unions to fall into the lock step of a militarized, authoritarian regime.

It was a question that the West all but ignored. With the end of World War II, the prospect of justice for war criminals quickly dissolved, replaced by the need to build the postwar alliance against Communism. Leaders and thinkers were occupied with rearming for a nuclear future and rooting out leftists, the trend that had made my father unemployable.

He thought that he might use the trial to gather social scientists for a discussion of how fascism took root. During preproduction for the broadcast, he began to cast around for an Israeli institution that could host it. He said he asked a former classmate who was editor of a major Israeli newspaper, but they were not interested. Another outlet, the Israeli equivalent of the BBC, said they were not the place for it. A prestigious university couldn’t see the relevance. As the trial began and his production ramped up, he had to let the idea drop.

Though he did not know it at the time, these institutions showed no interest in the sources of fascism because the trial was not a trial of fascism. Instead, it was an opportunity for Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Agency to rebrand the Zionist movement. While the early days of Zionism extolled muscular, self-sufficient pioneers in a new, empty and promised land, that image had not aged well in the postwar world. In addition, many Israeli Jews looked down on the Jews of “old Europe,” whom they saw as trembling in their shtetls and walking helplessly to their deaths. Of course, they grieved the Holocaust, and their diplomats used its memory to convince the United Nations to recognize the State of Israel. Still, the ring of shame had settled around the survivors, many of whom had been traumatized to the point of dysfunction.

As witnesses at the trial spoke of crimes and suffering that had never been heard before, Israeli attitudes changed. The survivors of the Nazis — once seen as tattooed strangers, muttering to themselves on street corners in Tel Aviv — now began to be looked upon with more compassion. Their deaths and suffering, the crimes of the Shoah, were moved to the heart of Zionism. It helped point to Israel as the safe haven for the persecuted, with “never again!” as their rallying cry.

As Hannah Arendt famously pointed out, the aim of the prosecutor was to frame the trial as justice for crimes against Jews. The slaughter of Roma, Gays, labor leaders, Socialists, Communists, the disabled, and any opposition was hardly mentioned.

Without meaning to, my father helped to reinforce the emotional aspect of the trial and in so doing weaken its political implications. Though his previous films included a fuller view of the crimes and victims of Nazism, the way he shot the trial did the opposite: His brilliant coverage individualized Eichmann and steered viewers away from a more historical view. The work of studying fascism could not compete with the satisfaction of blaming a villain and imagining that the problems could be solved with his sentencing.

My father helped to make this Nazi into a character in a drama of cinematic confrontation, not of real understanding. It was now the Jewish state against the murderer of Jews. Crimes against other groups were not germane to the purpose to which the State of Israel and its head prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, sought to turn the trial.

The question of how fascism gains power is no less urgent today. As nationalisms multiply around the globe, lies gain supremacy as political weapons and scapegoating minorities proves itself a powerful mobilizing force, danger is burgeoning, here and in Israel itself. What I witnessed as a 14-year-old in that control room, I am witnessing again. The fascination with individual people’s guilt or innocence is obscuring the society-wide re-emergence of fascism. And we appear to be no more interested in viewing the full picture.

Source: Adolf Eichmann Was Ready for His Close-Up. My Father Gave It to Him.

Luciuk: Ottawa’s National Holocaust Monument must include Ukrainians

The challenge with all monuments and memorials is to respond to the groups that made the demand for a memorial with other groups that were less central to the atrocities and genocide.

In somewhat crass political terms, Ukrainian Canadians deservedly obtained recognition of the Holodomor as a genocide and funding to commemorate WW1 internment of Ukrainian Canadians and some other groups, just as Jewish and other ethnic groups have received recognition of past historical injustices. And it is churlish to criticize other groups and their memorials:

I’m offended.

My mother was a teenager when the Nazis kidnapped her, one of millions of Ukrainians enslaved by Hitler’s legions. Even so, she was lucky. She survived. Millions did not. Another victim, whom I befriended later in life, was Stefan Petelycky. A Ukrainian nationalist, he was interned in the most notorious Nazi concentration camps. He never forgot what the Germans did to him. He couldn’t. His forearm was branded with Auschwitz tattoo #154922.

Certainly, Ukrainians weren’t the Holocaust’s only victims. Millions of Jews died. Millions of Polish Catholics were murdered. And I acknowledge the Russians who ran afoul of Nazi racism, even if I despise the fascism infecting Russia today. Indeed all Slavic peoples were considered untermenschen (subhumans). The Nazis planned to exterminate or deport most of them, leaving only a few to serve as helots, bond servants of the Third Reich’s settler-colonial imperialism. Thankfully, the Nazis were defeated. Millions of Ukrainians died making sure of that.

Does the federal government know this? I doubt it. Within hours of the official unveiling of the National Holocaust Monument on Sept. 17, 2017, featuring Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-minister of Canadian Heritage, Mélanie Joly, a controversy erupted over the dedication plaque. Originally, it stated: “The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and honours the survivors who persevered and were able to make their way to Canada after one of the darkest chapters in history. This monument recognizes the contributions these survivors have made to Canada and serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against hate, intolerance and discrimination.”

This saccharine inscription was denounced. Now it reads: “The National Holocaust Monument commemorates the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.”

Underscoring Nazi Germany’s responsibility for a genocide is essential. Emphasizing the six million Jewish dead is required. But why, despite almost two dozen other plaques, was the suffering of millions of non-Jewish victims largely ignored?

This becomes even less comprehensible as you discover who is remembered. For example, several hundred Afro-Germans are — yet few, if any, ever ended up here. The same is true of other victim groups, such as Roma, homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. At a time when the federal government goes on and on about being inclusive, why were Ukrainian, Russian and Polish victims excluded, seemingly by design? Did someone decide they were the “collaborators” seemingly targeted by the revised text? That would be grossly unfair: far more of them fell fighting fascism as compared to the few who collaborated.

This could be fixed by adding another plaque. There’s room and a precedent for revising; I’ll even pay for it. So why hasn’t it been done? I have asked more than one minister, more than once, over several years. They don’t answer. Federal promises about how all  the victims would be hallowed were nothing but ballyhoo.

As it stands today, the National Holocaust Monument intentionally ignores the suffering of millions of people. It neglects the contributions many Holocaust survivors made to Canada — among them Stefan Petelycky and Maria Luciuk. At a time when Ukrainians are again defending themselves against a genocidal agenda, this deliberate slight is particularly galling. Why is Pablo Rodriguez, the minister responsible, refusing to address this monument’s discriminatory messaging? Why hasn’t he ordered a revision that would transform this site into a truly inclusive place of memory?

There are too many hungry people out there for me to toss tomato soup at this monument; I’ll donate the can to a food bank instead. Likewise, I won’t indulge in criminal vandalism, like those hooligans who spray-paint statues at night. Armed with the courage of my convictions, I protest in daylight, sans balaclava. As for those stoked-up packs tearing up about tearing down statues — doing so neither erases their purportedly unhappy pasts nor does it compensate for present-day failings.

Frankly, we should all be more grateful for the good country we live in. But, should you come across a publicly funded monument perpetuating a prejudice, let’s talk about it. Meanwhile, redoing the National Holocaust Monument shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, it has been done before.

Lubomyr Luciuk is a Fellow of the Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto and a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Source: Luciuk: Ottawa’s National Holocaust Monument must include Ukrainians

Switzerland: Calls grow to ban Nazi symbols and salutes

Of note:

At a rally protesting against anti-Covid measures in September 2021, a demonstrator made a Nazi salute – right in the middle of Bern’s Old Town. The public prosecutor’s office consequently issued the demonstrator with a penalty order for improper behaviour. However, the man successfully contested the notice. There was no legal basis for a conviction, a local court ruled.

A neo-Nazi who made the same salute in 2010 on Rütli Meadow in the canton of Uri also ended up being acquitted. The Swiss Federal Court ruled in 2013 that the man had been expressing his own convictions among like-minded people, and that this was not a criminal offence. Had he been making the salute to spread Nazi ideology on the other hand, he would have been punished under Swiss anti-racism laws.

These examples show that Switzerland has a certain tolerance threshold when it comes to making Nazi symbols and gestures. Nazi salutes, swastikas, etc. are banned only when used for propaganda purposes. Political efforts to scrap this distinction have been ongoing since 2003. Majorities in the Federal Council [Swiss government] and parliament have so far judged freedom of expression to be more important, but the perception seems to be shifting now. Three motions on the issue have been submitted in parliament – one from the centre right and two from the left.

Spate of incidents during the pandemic

Parliamentarian for The Centre, Marianne Binder, set the ball rolling in winter. Binder wants a complete ban on Nazi gestures, flags and symbols, both in the real world and online. Explaining her motion, she said: “Anti-Semitic incidents have increased and took on a new dimension during the pandemic.”

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism (GRA) confirm this. According to their Report on Anti-Semitism, 2021 saw a proliferation of anti-Semitic incidents in Switzerland. There were 806 reports of online anti-Semitic content including anti-Semitic conspiracy theories – a more than 60% increase on the previous year.

There were 53 real-world anti-Semitic incidents, which included verbal abuse, public statements and offensive graffiti on synagogues. Anti-vaccine protesters wore Stars of David inscribed with the word “unvaccinated”. And in a Zurich suburb, they graffitied “Impfen [vaccination] macht frei” – a play on words on the infamous gate at Auschwitz – next to a swastika. People argue that the protesters need not have had anti-Semitic motives, says Binder. “You can plead stupidity, but how blind to history can you be?” she asks, adding that it constitutes an intolerable trivialisation of the Holocaust.

Binder deliberately restricted the motion to focusing on symbols and gestures related to Nazism and the Holocaust, whereas previous motions had targeted symbols and gestures encouraging racism and violence in general. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to list every single possible infraction. But Nazi symbols and salutes are unambiguous. “They certainly do not come under freedom of expression.”

Parliamentarians Gabriela Suter and Angelo Barrile, both from the Social Democratic Party, doubled down with similar parliamentary initiatives. The SIG endorsed the motions in January 2022, the first time it has explicitly put its weight behind initiatives of this type. Far-right extremists at protest rallies and concerts were specifically taking advantage of Switzerland’s legal loophole, it said. “This is particularly hurtful and bewildering for the minorities affected.”

The Council of the Swiss Abroad, which represents the interests of the “Fifth Switzerland” via-à-vis the authorities and the general public, also expressed support in March for criminalising all use of Nazi symbols and gestures in public. On behalf of the delegation from Israel, Ralph Steigrad noted that Switzerland had been debating the issue for almost 20 years: “It now needs to act and follow the examples of other countries.” This did not mean stopping symbols from being shown in teaching material for purely educational purposes, he stressed.

However, the Federal Council initially wanted to leave things as they were for the time being and rejected Marianne Binder’s motion. Even though Nazi symbols and salutes were “shocking”, they had to be tolerated as an exercise of freedom of expression, it wrote in reply. Educating people was better than enacting a ban.

Experts are divided

Legal and extremism experts are divided over the issue. Some say that far-right extremists might even feel vindicated if criminal proceedings were brought against them, and that a sweeping ban potentially moves us to a kind of penal law focused on punishing offenders’ attitudes or belief systems instead of the act itself.

Others argue that Nazi symbols pose a threat to peaceful, democratic society and are unacceptable in any country governed by the rule of law. And lo and behold, the Federal Council appears to have overcome its initial hesitancy amid reports that Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter is looking into the matter after all. She said her ministry would now see what legal options are available.

Keller-Sutter also wrote a reply to the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) – via which the Council of the Swiss Abroad had expressed its concerns to the Federal Council –assuring it that the government was well aware of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Switzerland.

By all means you can prevent anti-Semitism and ban Nazi symbols at the same time, says Binder. It is necessary to do both. Building a Holocaust memorial (see box) while continuing to allow Nazi symbols and salutes defeats the object. Parliament is set to debate Binder’s motion in its summer session.

Source: Calls grow to ban Nazi symbols and salutes

Photos That Helped to Document the Holocaust Were Taken by a Nazi

Of interest, and the importance of what is “outside the frame” and context to understanding these and other photographs:

On June 20, 1943, bewildered and terrified families, laden with baggage and branded with yellow stars, were forced into Olympiaplein, one of this city’s most recognizable public squares. Few knew where they were going, or for how long, so they wore their winter coats despite the blazing sun as they registered with the Nazi authorities.

A Dutch photographer, Herman Heukels, moved through the crowd, taking pictures of people who would soon be deported to concentration camps. His images would be the final portraits of many of these people, who were among 5,500 sent that day from Amsterdam to Westerbork transit camp, and then on to “the east.” The vast majority would never return.

Heukels’s photos are some of the strongest visual evidence used by historians to illustrate the Holocaust in the Netherlands, which took the lives of more than 102,000 of the estimated 140,000 Jewish civilians who lived in the country before World War II.

Yet despite their ubiquity in books and films, few people outside of scholarly circles know that these images were actually taken by a Dutch Nazi. He intended to depict Jews in a demeaning light. Instead, he ended up paying stark witness to the atrocities of the Third Reich.

“These are very famous photos, some of the most requested photos in our archive from across the whole world,” said René Kok, a researcher at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam. The institute holds an archive of about 30 original Heukels photos from the Dutch Ministry of Justice, which confiscated them as part of his postwar collaboration trial.

In recent months, a deeper sense of Heukels’s beliefs and motivations has emerged from a biography published in Dutch this spring that reveals how an ordinary young man from Zwolle became radicalized as a member of the Dutch Nazi party. The book, by Machlien Vlasblom, a Dutch World War II historian, provides new insights into how Heukels betrayed Jewish people from his town, looted their businesses and property, and recorded their history as a press photographer for the Dutch S.S.

“He captured them at their weakest moments,” Vlasblom said in an interview, “and the way he acted there was rude and brutal. Of course, he put the Nazi ideology into these images.”

How does this new information change the way we might look at these photos? Or how historians might use them, or contextualize them in the future?

The photos are “quite exceptional,” said a NIOD researcher, Kees Ribbens, a professor of Popular Historical Culture and Mass Violence at Erasmus University Rotterdam, because they “show the Holocaust taking place in a very well-known place in the center of Amsterdam. They show how the whole bureaucracy of deportation worked.”

Yet, these are “not innocent images,” said the Amsterdam-based Israeli artist Ram Katzir, who recently used one of Heukels’s pictures as the foundation for a memorial he created for the site of deportations. The artwork, “Shadows,” unveiled on the 79th anniversary of the raid in June, reproduced the shadows of the deportees from the photos, in the exact locations on Olympiaplein where they were last documented alive.

“We had no names of any of the victims,” said Katzir, so he deliberated a lot about whether to include Heukels’s name on the information plaque. In the end, he decided to do so. “It’s a double-edged image; and if you hide that, you hide the role of the collaborator.”

Katzir added, “When you look at the information plaque, you’re standing exactly where the photographer stood.”

In fact, a majority of the surviving images of Jewish persecution in the Netherlands were “made from the point of view of the persecutor,” Ribbens said. These include those by Bart de Kok, a member of the Dutch Nazi Party, known as N.S.B., and a German press photographer, Franz Anton Stapf, who captured some of the last images of Amsterdam’s Jewish community before it was decimated.

Janina Struk, author of the 2005 book “Photographing the Holocaust: Interpretations of the Evidence,” said that in the postwar period, photos taken by bystanders, perpetrators and victims were “all kind of mixed together,” and hardly anyone asked who had shot the photos or for what purposes.

“Until quite recently, historians have not really been so concerned about who took the pictures, and why they took them and what they were for,” she said. “It’s been rather historians using pictures as illustrations of a text, rather than being a text themselves.”

In recent years, she added, there has been a greater emphasis on contextualizing the images, explaining how they were made, so that viewers have a better understanding of what they’re looking at — and so people can make better ethical choices about how to present them.

Ribbens said that in learning that Heukels’s aim was to publish his photos in Storm S.S., a Dutch Nazi propaganda weekly (they were never published there), we can think about what he chose to leave out of the frame. In his series, he said, we don’t see the Nazi officials or the Dutch police who were forcibly rounding up civilians.

It doesn’t automatically raise the question: Who organized this, who is responsible for this persecution?” he said. “People show up, and it’s not clear what kind of stress they’re under, why they’re sent here, what choice did they have in leaving their homes, why they didn’t find a hiding place? What was so threatening about it?”

The official policy of the German occupiers was that no images of Jewish people could be published in the “legal” Dutch press, explained NIOD researcher and photography expert Erik Somers. Propaganda newspapers, however, could print such images alongside articles with expressly antisemitic content.

As a result, a high proportion of Holocaust images, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere, were taken by Nazi-endorsed propaganda photographers who had explicit permission to carry cameras, Struk said. Other images came from German soldiers who specifically sought out “souvenir” images of Jews who they thought fit a physical stereotype.

“We know that the Germans used photography as a weapon, and they invested a great deal in propaganda photography,” said Sheryl Silver Ochayon, program director for Echoes & Reflections, an educational arm of Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel.

“Photographs never killed anyone,” she added, “but what photographs can do is they can justify an ideology. If you present your victims as low or passive, or like vermin, you can justify a genocidal plan of action, as the Germans did.”

Vlasblom began her research when a friend from church, Gerard Visser, asked her to look at a box of family letters he had inherited. Although he knew the papers concerned his two great-uncles, Herman Heukels and Jan Heukels, who was also a Nazi collaborator, he said in an interview, “I didn’t really know the family structure, so I didn’t know who sent what to whom or why.”

Not everyone in Visser’s family is pleased that Vlasblom’s book, “We waren supermannen (We Were Supermen),” which also includes information about Jan Heukels, called attention to these two ancestors who were collaborators.

“You hear all the heroic resistance stories from Holland,” Visser said, “but there are people like the Heukels, who really did bad things. I felt that part of a country’s history should also be told.”

Does knowing more about Herman Heukels’s personal biography imply that historians should use these photographs in a different way — or even use them less often?

Somers from the NIOD, the Dutch archive, said these images continue to be a valuable historical source, but the Heukelses’ story underscores the importance of providing context to pictures.

“You have to find out from the beginning the elements of those photos,” he said, “who made the photo and for what purpose, and in what context?”

Struk added, “We need to move away from the idea that a photograph is just a window on the world. It isn’t. It’s a very edited version of what the photographer chose to photograph.”

Source: Photos That Helped to Document the Holocaust Were Taken by a Nazi

Quebec judge says Crown failed to prove Nazism led to Holocaust in hate speech trial

Odd, to say the least, given that this is settled history:

The prosecution in the trial of a Montreal man accused of fomenting hatred against Jews failed to establish that the murder of Jews by the regime of Adolf Hitler was a consequence of Nazi ideology, a Quebec court judge said Friday.

The case involves Gabriel Sohier Chaput, 35, who faces one count of wilfully promoting hatred in connection with an article he has admitted to writing that was published in 2017 on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer. The blog post included racist images and comments about Jews throughout, and the website displayed photos of Hitler and other images associated with Nazism.

Prosecutor Patrick Lafrenière said it was common knowledge that the Daily Stormer is a far-right website and that Nazi ideology led directly to the murder of millions of Jews.

But Judge Manlio Del Negro wasn’t satisfied. “You (Mr.) Lafrenière, did not present an expert opinion,” the judge said.

“The Crown is asking a lot,” Del Negro said. “You are making arguments that have not been put into evidence (…) I am not convinced that doing what you are asking me to do does not prejudice the accused.”

Sohier Chaput’s defence lawyer, Hélène Poussard, jumped into the discussion, telling the judge that, “today, Nazism is used to describe everything. We mix the Holocaust with Nazism.”

Poussard added that, “it’s not because Jews were exterminated that it was part of the ideology.” She then suggested that Jews were killed in Nazi concentration camps “to save money.”

The judge rebuked her: “You have crossed the line!” he said.

Then the judge turned to Lafrenière. “You see, (Mr.) Lafrenière, it’s your fault. It would have been easy to prove that the Daily Stormer was a far-right site. It would have been easy to bring a historian to prove that Nazism was behind the extermination of the Jews.”

The two sides agreed to return to court on Aug. 29 to fix a date for a debate as to whether it is common knowledge that the Daily Stormer is a far-right website and that Nazism did indeed lead to the Holocaust.

Earlier on Friday, Lafrenière delivered his closing arguments, attempting to demonstrate that the text written by Sohier Chaput and the context in which it was published were hateful. The article said 2017 would be the year of “non-stop Nazism, everywhere.”

“You have to take the context into account,” Lafrenière said. “Nazism is the largest manifestation of hate toward the Jews.”

The article’s degrading comments, its aggressive tone and its description of Jews as “our enemies,” the lawyer said, “are likely to promote hatred” against the Jewish community.

Poussard delivered her closing arguments in March, stating that her client was being ironic and was trying to make his readers laugh.

Sohier Chaput, meanwhile, testified during the trial that the Daily Stormer was a “parody site.”

Lafrenière said Friday that the site is by all appearances a serious website and not intended to be a joke.

Sohier Chaput, who wrote under the pen name Zeiger, published around 1,000 articles on The Daily Stormer, making him one of the site’s most prolific contributors.

Lafrenière said the accused wrote the entirety of the article and that certain derogatory terms used toward Jewish people were not added by an editor, as Sohier Chaput has claimed.

About 40 demonstrators identifying with the anti-fascist movement were in front of the Montreal courthouse to express their lack of confidence in the judicial system “to combat the influence of the far-right and the fascist threat.”

Source: Quebec judge says Crown failed to prove Nazism led to Holocaust in hate speech trial

Why Canada’s plan to criminalize Holocaust denial could be unconstitutional — and redundant

Good discussion of some of the issues involved.

Reminds me of Holocaust denier David Irving suing Deborah Lipstadt for libel in her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, and the legal strategy involved which ensured that she herself would not take the witness stand to maintain the focus on Irving:

Sidney Zoltak, who has spent a significant part of his life recounting his experiences as a child survivor of the Holocaust, says he’s not sure how he would characterize the effort by some to deny the historical genocide.

“I don’t know what to call it … whether it’s a crime, a shame, a lie — what would be more appropriate,” said Zoltak, 91. As a child, he, along with his family, escaped the Jewish ghetto set up by Nazis in his Polish hometown and went into hiding.

“But what kind of a crime it is, I am not a legal person, not a lawyer, so I wouldn’t know how to legislate that.”

Yet, that’s what the federal government will attempt to do, and join several countries in Europe, including Germany, that make Holocaust denial a crime. However, like any legislation that seeks to curb expression, it could be subject to Charter challenges.

‘Probably unconstitutional’

The Holocaust refers to the state-sponsored initiative by the Nazi government during the Second World War that led to the murder of more than six million Jews and millions of others, such as Roma. 

The government’s plan to criminalize denial of those events — outside of private conversation — was first unveiled inside this year’s 280-page federal budget. Along with a number of initiatives to fight antisemitism, including $20 million for a new Holocaust museum in Montreal, the budget also revealed the government’s intent to amend the Criminal Code. Currently the Criminal Code makes it illegal to communicate statements in public that wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group.

The amendment would “prohibit the communication of statements, other than in private conversation, that willfully promote antisemitism by condoning, denying or downplaying the Holocaust.”

But while many advocates welcome the legislation, some legal experts question its constitutionality.

“I think it’s problematic to criminalize Holocaust denial,” said Cara Zwibel, lawyer and director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “That’s not to say that that kind of expression is not harmful. But the truth is, we don’t criminalize lying for the most part.”

“I think if it adds things that sort of go beyond the narrow definition of what the court has said is hate speech, then it’s probably unconstitutional.”

‘Reliable predictor of radicalization’

The news was welcomed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which said the amendment would “provide the necessary legal tools to prosecute those who peddle this pernicious form of antisemitism.”

“Denying the Holocaust is a reliable predictor of radicalization and an indication that antisemitism is on the rise,” Gail Adelson-Marcovitz, chair of the national board of directors of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement.

Record levels of antisemitism took place in Canada in 2021, according to an annual audit by Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith. The number of violent incidents toward Jews last year increased by more than 700 per cent.

Sarah Fogg, a spokeswoman for the Montreal Holocaust Museum, said while the organization was surprised to see such a measure in a federal budget, they welcomed the news as an “important step.”

“It’s a really meaningful legislative effort to combat antisemitism,” she said. “I think this this sort of makes that link really obvious between Holocaust denial and antisemitism.”

Putting the Holocaust on trial

But Zwibel warned the legislation could give Holocaust deniers a platform.

She cited the case of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, who was tried twice in the 1980s for publishing the pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die? The Truth At Last. Although convicted, Zundel was eventually acquitted when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country’s laws against spreading false news as a violation of free speech.

His trials also put the Holocaust on trial, with the crown bringing in Holocaust researchers and survivors to support their case, while the defence put noted Holocaust deniers on the stand.

“What being prosecuted did for [Zundel] was give him a big platform and basically allow him to parade a bunch of witnesses in court to try and prove that the Holocaust didn’t happen and have the government put survivors before the court. It’s atrocious,” Zwibel said.

Zwibel also suggested there could be problems with how the amendment would define terms such as “condoning’ and “downplaying” in relation to the Holocaust.

“There’s a lot of different questions to try and figure out what would be caught here.”

Geneviève Groulx, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said ultimately, the courts will assess what words like “downplay” mean

“But generally it is understood to encompass actions that try to make (something) appear smaller or less important than in reality and to minimize (something). A court would have to conclude that the downplaying wilfully promotes antisemitism,” she said in an email.

Richard Moon, a University of Windsor law professor whose research focuses on freedom of expression, said any such law that restricts speech will likely be challenged at some point to determine whether that limitation can be justified under Section 1 of the Charter.

But Moon questioned whether the proposed amendment would add anything to what is already covered in the Criminal Code, other than to potentially specify or clarify in some way.

“So one possibility, it’s not actually doing anything new,” he said.

“The way this is framed, it sounds like someone being prosecuted under it, the prosecution would have to establish what they already have to establish under the existing Criminal Code.”

Zoltak and his family were some of the lucky few to survive the Holocaust. His family was on the run for two years, staying with different villagers, forced to change locations every few months. They eventually found one Polish family that hid them for 14 months in an underground bunker, where they did not see daylight for half that time.

When they were liberated and returned home, only 70 Jews remained in their village from the 7,000 prior to the war.

We know a number of nations around the world have made Holocaust denial a crime,” Zoltak said. “And they have been living with that for quite a while. And it works for them. And why should we be shying away from that?”

‘Has to be bulletproof’

Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian AntiHate Network, said while any tool that can deal with antisemitism is worthwhile, the legislation will have to be carefully thought out.

“It has to be kind of bulletproof in terms of the constitutionality test,” he said. “I think it’s all going to be in the wording of the  legislation.

“I accept this in principle. I think it’s a long time coming. But people do have the right to be stupid and offensive. And if people want to say that the Holocaust didn’t happen, that’s kind of their business. But that said, we know that these are, antisemitic dog whistles. And it’ll be really important in terms of the wording of the legislation on how it traces back to antisemitism.”

Zoltak and his family were some of the lucky few to survive the Holocaust. His family was on the run for two years, staying with different villagers, forced to change locations every few months. They eventually found one Polish family that hid them for 14 months in an underground bunker, where they did not see daylight for half that time.

When they were liberated and returned home, only 70 Jews remained in their village from the 7,000 prior to the war.

We know a number of nations around the world have made Holocaust denial a crime,” Zoltak said. “And they have been living with that for quite a while. And it works for them. And why should we be shying away from that?”

Source: Why Canada’s plan to criminalize Holocaust denial could be unconstitutional — and redundant

Expert says genocide is part of humanity, often result of propaganda

Unfortunately true, as recent history illustrates, whether Rwanda, China in Xinjiang, or as Russia is trying to do in Ukraine:

As the images of mass graves and murdered civilians in Ukraine flash across our screen, we think of those who commit genocide as pure evil.

But a man who has dedicated his life to fighting the bigotry that causes genocide and has discovered more than 3,100 execution sites and interviewed more than 7,400 victims around the world knows better.

“A human being has the capacity to heal people, to save people, but also the capacity to do the worst crimes,” Father Patrick Desbois said. “The first thing to accept is that genocide is inside humanity.”

Desbois, an author and founder of Yahad-In Unum (Together In One), a non-profit organization dedicated to discovering genocidal practices, spoke Monday night inside the Arizona Ballroom of the Memorial Union as part of Genocide Awareness Week, put on by Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Desbois, who has received several awards for his work documenting the Holocaust, including the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, said the perpetrators of genocide often are ordinary people who become embroiled in extraordinary situations.

He cited the case of Sabrina Harmon, a former U.S. Army reservist who was convicted of war crimes for her involvement in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Baghdad during the Iraq war.

“I always say to my students (at Georgetown University) that I’m sure she was a normal girl,” Desbois said. “I’m sure she was not a monster. Genocide is not in a hell place away from everything. It’s not true.”

Genocide often is the result, Desbois said, of propaganda feeding brainwashed minds. It was that way in Nazi Germany, in Angola in the 1970s, in Sudan and in Ukraine, where Russian president Vladimir Putin justified his country’s invasion with the propaganda that Ukraine is “openly pro-Nazi.”

“Hitler never missed people to do the job,” Desbois said. “There is no country where Hitler said, ‘Oh, nobody wants to do the job for killings. He found people to do everything, to dig the mass graves, to fill the mass graves, and even if Jews are not dead, they are buried alive, to take the belongings and sell them by auction, etc. etc.

“Because when you brainwash people, when you make propaganda to designate a target, you wake up the criminals. And you find clients for everything … Why are young soldiers coming from Russa doing awful things in public, under cameras from CNN? Why can Putin deny it every day?

“Propaganda is still strong. Propaganda has a capacity to whitewash the brain. And when people are brainwashed, any violence is possible … Everybody can be a victim. Everybody can be a killer. It depends where you are.”

Desbois said propaganda – and the resulting Neo-Nazi movement — is in part responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism around the world, including the United States. According to FBI statistics in 2020, Jews living in America are the target of 58% of all religiously motivated hate crimes.

Desbois said that when he posts something about the Holocaust on his Facebook page, “there’s always somebody who denies it, for any reason.”

“I will never forget the first time I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I took a cab from the airport and had an Arab driver. I gave the address, and he brought me to the museum. After I went to pay, he told me, ‘You go to a place which shows the genocide that never existed.’”

That attitude, Desbois said, is why it’s important to teach high school and college students about the Holocaust. Already, he said, the Holocaust is not taught in schools in Mexico, Asia, China, India, Russia, most African countries and most Arab countries.

“I see year after year students (at Georgetown) know nothing about the Holocaust,” Desbois said. And the young generation, they will have very few chances to meet a (Holocaust) survivor. They will meet people who say, ‘Ha, it never existed. It’s a Jewish trick to make money to build Israel.’

“So, it’s a strong responsibility to teach, to train a generation of leaders and to do it so that they have the capacity to resist the huge movement of hate.”

Holocaust by Bullets,” a program and exhibit by Yahad-In Unum, can be seen in the Hayden Library through April 17. Members of the ASU community can access the free exhibit any time during library hours. Non-ASU community members can access the exhibit during docent-led tours from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays.

Source: Expert says genocide is part of humanity, often result of propaganda