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

‘They’re Authoritarians, Dammit!’ Art Spiegelman On the School Board That Cancelled ‘Maus’

Worth noting:

In the four decades since Art Spiegelman began Maus, the graphic novel has sold millions of copies, won a Pulitzer Prize, and secured a place in the Western canon. The book communicates the history of the Holocaust through the history of his family— Polish Jews, who are rendered as mice, sent to death camps by Nazis, who are rendered as cats. Maus is taught in thousands of schools, including, until recently, to eighth-graders in Tennessee’s McMinn County, where the local school board voted 10-0 on Jan. 10 to remove it from the middle school curriculum. With predictable results.

Already alert to a flurry of previous efforts to remove titles deemed inappropriate by state and local politicians—including a Texas state lawmaker’s demand that every school district “investigate” some 850 books dealing with race or sexuality—liberals smelled a rat. Public school curriculums feature prominently in the culture wars that many Republicans are hoping to ride to electoral victory. Progressives may argue for an unvarnished instruction of U.S. history, but in Maus, one member of the McMinn County school board found “it looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity and normalize vulgar language. If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it.”

“Who’s the snowflake now?” Spiegelman shot back in one interview.

The cartoonist, who turns 74 on Feb. 15, spoke to TIME the morning after headlining a webinar that had attracted an audience of 17,000 before crashing the Facebook page of the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, which had hosted the conversation along with an array of Tennessee clergy, rabbis, and local activists Spiegelman found so enlightened and reasonable he said he might “have to jettison my caricatured notion of them all as Lil’ Abner-style hillbillies.”

TIME: How much are we dealing with caricatures here?
Art Spiegelman: Well, we’re dealing with everything from vile, racist and antisemitic caricatures to caricatures of what children are. And on the other end of the spectrum, maybe caricatures the way Walt Kelly and Herb Blockapplied them.

Have you ever been to eastern Tennessee?
Never.

You read the minutes of the meeting?
Yes I did. Several times.

What do you think is actually going on?
That’s what left me so filled with flop sweat before the conversation last night, because I kept veering back and forth. Am I just a total Pollyanna naive idiot? Or are these people really idiots? Or are they actually sinister forces that have gathered to, like, kill America for their own profit? Or what are they? I don’t know to what degree they’re genuinely out to destroy America and to what degree they’re actually just like I the metaphor I used last night: If you saw somebody like a psycho killer, strangling a loved one of yours, and you couldn’t reach that person to stop them. And your only response was, “God, did you see the fingernails on that creep’s hands? They’re dirty.”

Do you think it would help to meet the people?
Through bulletproof glass, yeah.

We refer to it as a ban. Is it a ban?
It’s not banned in its broadest meaning, but it is a ban of sorts to use authority to keep people from things. Yes, it’s a ban. And yet it’s not a book burning.

The board later put out a statement that their decision “does not diminish the value of Maus as an impactful and meaningful piece of literature.” Do you take them at their word?

I don’t know. That’s where I started this conversation with you. I don’t know. I don’t know. Did they rewrite their minutes to get rid of all the terrible things actually said to each other in order for us to sanitize the meeting minutes, two or three weeks later? How would I know? My guess is that what they did was the law of the land still is based on the 1982 decision that you can ban things further affect young minds and whatever but you can’t on the basis of content. So they focus on how terrible it was to see what they described as a nude woman—what I saw as the naked corpse of my mother in the bathtub having slashed her wrists in that bathtub. And to call her nude, it made me angry. Naked, which means a kind of vulnerable lack of covering, is enough to get you livid, because look, what do they want me to show, like her upside down in the bathtub? Or wearing a bathrobe splattered with blood in the bathtub? Which didn’t make any sense. They didn’t want to show it. And that was a problem.

I just can’t tell to what degree this carried water for more whacked out people than they are, the ones who really stand to profit from getting more charter schools in the area that teach religion, thereby taking money away from a public education that needs far, far more to do its job well. I don’t know. So we’ll have to see how this plays out. I don’t think I’ve changed and hearts and minds. What this thing last night did show is that caricatures aren’t the way through unless you really know how to use them. It’s like these people that I met last night are wonderful … talking about building bridges rather than blowing bridges up.

Some of the people in the webinar appeared quite pleased. Was that because they have a battle that has been joined?
Yeah. They’re fighting not to burn the book burners or whatever, but really trying to make some kind of bridge—although I think it might be a bridge too far—it’s such an admirable thing to do. They’re better people than I am. I tried to rise to the occasion. But the caricature thing is: caricatures can be used be used to subvert themselves, you know, like the caricature of reducing Nazis and Jews to Cats and Mice. But by showing the caricatures as masks with humans underneath it, and pointing to that more and more as the book goes on, dissolves whatever their caricature is by creating a kind of self-destructing metaphor. But you’re play with dynamite when you’re playing with caricature.

It’s such a personal book. Is the offense personal?

Yes. Because when they’re really most focused on me yelling at my father when he destroyed my mother’s diary and finally confessed to it. I say something like “God damn you, murderer, you murdered her a second time!” The memories that she had managed to preserve for me, because what she said when she was young ,when she died, reoccur, and were destroyed so my cursing is there. And I’m cursing at my mother. I’m calling her a bitch, in the confusion of finding out that my mother had just died that day by killing herself. And there’s a a turmoil, there’s a turmoil of remembering my early childhood, of what the reasons might be, ranging from premenopausal depression to life in the camps damaging her so badly.

That I felt was a little place they had really focused. But why? Because I believe, they were upset that I was breaking the commandment to honor thy father and mother. And that was usurping their authority. They’re all parents. They don’t want their kids talking to them like that, thank you. Authority is what they like the most. They’re authoritarians, dammit.

The board’s attorney said the book could be salvaged if the author approved “extensive edits,” like whiting out “bitch.” Maybe we should just put in “blintz” or “bagel.” Make for a more wholesome Jewish cultural experience.

You have a long history with censorship, right? The Comics Code?
The Comics Code is what made me. Yes, the burning of comic books literally in the 40s and 50s by teachers, clergyman, parents. There were several bonfires across the country. I have a photo of one in Binghamton, N.Y., where I was in college till I got kicked out. That was an important moment because comics had been perceived as being for children, although adults—certainly, GIs, and young women who read true romance magazines were reading romance comics—were probably reading them more than children. But it was focused on the same thing these school board people focused, on we have to protect the children as opposed to educate them, and not let them actually follow their fantasies.

But those comic books that they were burning were pretty far out there and getting more far out as they lead into the more adult audience. You know, the horror comics and some of the very lurid images in many of those comics more and more were among the comics I love the most, because they were kind of on the edge of the forbidden, because they were showing me things to their most exaggerated. And I love those comics, the horror comics. And mainly the horror comics companion from the same publisher:MAD. If there was one of these Citizen Kane biographies about me, like the rosebud at the end would be a copy of MAD comics.

This controversy has boosted sales, hasn’t it?
I think enormously. I haven’t seen it yet. But you know the cynical side of this is like: “Oh man you just got to get your book banned, it’ll really do wonders.” I can envision a future in which there are book galleys going out to people saying publication date, April 5, ban date May 1 .

I didn’t need the uptick in sales. Maus has been really selling steadily since 1986, when the first volume came out, even more so after it won the Pulitzer Prize. I didn’t need to boost my income. It’ll give me more money to donate to things like voter registration.

But the other thing about the forbidden is that it’s it’s it’s always richer if you have to sneak it right? I had to hide MAD magazine from my mom.

As my friend oldest, closest friend, who is now dead, would say, there was a point where he had to hide MAD inside a school book, and a point where he had to hide MAD inside his copy of Playboy.

Which you’ve also worked for, as the school board noted.
Yes, they sure did note it! The roster of authors who have appeared there probably are on their banned list. They include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, Shel Silverstein. It’s an honorable company to be in, even though I understand how Playboy hasn’t aged well in our current moment. Great one to be able to throw at me.

Source: ‘They’re Authoritarians, Dammit!’ Art Spiegelman On the School Board That Cancelled ‘Maus’

Regg Cohn: Ignoring antisemitism hasn’t made it go away

Good reminder:

We haven’t heard much about deep-seated antisemitism in Canada since the notorious Jim Keegstra. Infamous and unforgettable, he taught Holocaust denial in Alberta classrooms and testified to it in Alberta courtrooms.

Well that was decades ago, you think. Not in Ontario today, you say?

You’ve likely never heard of Joseph DiMarco, because you probably haven’t seen his story anywhere.

DiMarco is an Ontario teacher fired for preaching Holocaust denial and spouting antisemitism in a Timmins Catholic school. After earning his education certificate at Nipissing University 16 years ago, he taught his students to question the deaths of six million Jews in the Holocaust.

After a hearing last November, based on an agreed statement of facts (DiMarco did not attend or contest the charges), the provincial regulator revoked his licence to teach. In the weeks since, there’s been barely a ripple in the mainstream media — I’d not seen anything on this until someone passed on a recent story in the Canadian Jewish News online.

“When students tried to challenge or question the … assertions about the figure of six million deaths not being accurate, the (teacher) was dismissive, reminding the students how much research he had done,” a discipline committee of the Ontario College of Teachers concluded.

The regulator noted that DiMarco “provided students with learning material about the Holocaust from disreputable and unapproved sources which contradicted the facts.”

He tried to justify his conspiracy theories as merely anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, not antisemitic as such. But he knew what he was doing when he curated his own “Zionism slide show” as a teaching tool.

DiMarco ridiculed a school field trip to a Nazi concentration camp as evidence that the “powers that be” were spreading propaganda. He also taught his students that Israel was the evil force behind the 9/11 attacks that killed thousands in the U.S.

The regulator quoted from DiMarco’s email to the school chaplain explaining that “If some people actually understood who was pulling the strings, and the truth came out — antisemitism will return with a ferocity seldom seen throughout history.”

What’s noteworthy is that his teachings, and his firing, never seemed especially newsworthy. 

We read a great deal in the media about the rise of racism and white supremacy in society today. Yet when we come across someone who denies the genocide that claimed six million Jewish lives in pursuit of Nazi ideals of white supremacy — in the guise of Aryan purity — it barely rates a mention.

Is it because most Jews immigrated and integrated so long ago that they are deemed well entrenched, and hence less deserving of coverage? Does the old media credo to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” diminish journalistic interest in Jews (or anyone else) who might be comfortably established?

If Jews have agency, is there less urgency?

Behold the risk of complacency: After the terror of a rabbi and Jewish worshippers being taken hostage in a Texas synagogue this month, by a gunman ranting online about the putative power of Jews, the FBI reassured Americans that this was not, actually, an antisemitic act. The media dutifully, uncritically, incredibly, reported that as fact — until, days later, the FBI reassessed and recanted.

And yet according to FBI statistics, 60 per cent of all victims of anti-religious hate crimes in 2019 were targeted because of anti-Jewish bias. About 13 per cent were victims of anti-Muslim bias.

Well that’s just America with its own peculiar blinkers, you think. Not in Canada, you say?

A recent headline proclaimed: “Toronto saw an ‘unprecedented’ spike in hate crime in 2020, including rise in anti-Asian and anti-Black incidents, police say.”

Yet the headline skipped over the reality — noted in the story — that antisemitic attacks were as high as ever, and disproportionately so: “Although Jewish people represent just 3.8 per cent of Toronto’s population, the community saw 30 per cent of reported hate crimes in 2020” — less newsworthy because they’ve always been historically high, and hence old news?

I first wondered about this phenomenon last year after writing a column about the continued Islamophobic attacks on two high-profile Toronto Muslims — Paramount Fine Foods founder Mohamad Fakih, and Walied Soliman, chair of the Norton Rose Fulbright Canada law firm. The unprecedented success of these two in counterattacking in court — effectively silencing and subduing their tormentors — received remarkably little coverage despite the recent proliferation of racism stories.

Antisemitism and Islamophobia are close cousins. Will journalistic indifference to the same old same old antisemitism translate, increasingly, into a similar kind of Islamophobia fatigue if the targets are prominent, or prosperous, or well-protected?

None of this is to diminish the impact of discrimination on other groups or individuals. But auspicious archetypes and hateful stereotypes have a way of blurring our vision and vigilance — Muslims aren’t all well-connected, just as all Jews aren’t well-established — and even if they were, would the hate be any less harmful? 

Intolerance strikes in all shapes and sizes — and all social classes of all societies. I got into journalism to “comfort the afflicted.” But not even the comfortable, of any race or religion, deserve the affliction of discrimination and persecution.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2022/01/24/ignoring-antisemitism-hasnt-made-it-go-away.html

UN defines Holocaust denial in new resolution

Significant, at least symbolically:

The UN has adopted a resolution aimed at combating Holocaust denial and is urging member states and social media firms to help fight anti-Semitism.

The resolution, put forward by Israel and Germany, was passed without a vote by the 193-member General Assembly.

The move sends “a strong… message against the denial or the distortion of these historical facts”, the UN said.

Six million Jewish people died in the Holocaust – Nazi Germany’s campaign to eradicate Europe’s Jewish population.

“Ignoring historical facts increases the risk that they will be repeated,” Germany’s UN Ambassador Antje Leendertse said.

The text commends nations that preserve sites that once served as Nazi death camps and concentration camps and urges member states to provide educational programmes on The Holocaust.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and her Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid, said in a joint statement they were concerned by a recent dramatic increase in Holocaust denial.

The resolution lists distortion or denial of The Holocaust as:

  • Intentional efforts to excuse or minimise the impact of The Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany
  • Gross minimisation of the number of the victims of The Holocaust in contradiction to reliable sources
  • Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide
  • Statements that cast The Holocaust as a positive historical event
  • Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups

While the resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly, Iran – a member of the organisation – said it was disassociating itself from the text.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they began to strip Jewish people of all property, freedoms and rights under the law. At the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942, the Nazi leadership decided to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe, and deportations of Jews to extermination camps began.

Source: UN defines Holocaust denial in new resolution

Document suggesting students learn positive aspects of Nazi Germany deleted by Alberta education officials

Striking that the document dates from 1984 with multiple revisions without anyone noticing or taking action:

A document that suggested Alberta students learn about the positive aspects of Nazi Germany has been deleted from the Ministry of Education’s website, following criticism from multiple groups.

The document, a set of guidelines for “recognizing diversity and promoting respect,” suggested considering whether a given educational resource addressed “both the positive and negative behaviours” of various groups.

“For instance,” it read, “if a video details war atrocities committed by the Nazis, does it also point out that before World War II, German government’s policies substantially strengthened the country’s economy?”

Source: Document suggesting students learn positive aspects of Nazi Germany deleted by Alberta education officials

Vienna Opens First Public Memorial Listing Holocaust Victims’ Names | World News | US News

Of note:

Austria on Tuesday opened its first public memorial listing the names of all 64,440 Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The country where Adolf Hitler was born was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938 and Vienna was a crucible of Third Reich anti-Semitism. Yet Austria was slow to recognise its role, and for decades it called itself the first victim of Nazism.

Source: Vienna Opens First Public Memorial Listing Holocaust Victims’ Names | World News | US News

Cohen: Eighty years after the Babi Yar massacre, we struggle to remember and learn

Good reminder:

Among the most searing scenes in War and Remembrance, Herman Wouk’s epic novel of the Second World War presented as a multi-hour television series in the 1980s, is the massacre at Babi Yar in 1941. It is where the Holocaust began.

Through his highly developed characters, Wouk offers an unsparing depiction of the plight of the Jews in Auschwitz and in Theresienstadt, “the paradise ghetto.” In contrast to the slow, intimate unspooling of that agony, his dramatization of Babi Yar is remote, anonymous and brief.

See thousands of Jews ordered from their homes in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. See them marched to a sprawling ravine on the city’s outskirts. See them present their papers, leave their luggage, remove their clothes. All methodically.

See them walk to the edge of the ravine — naked, terrified, wailing — where they tumble like cordwood before the battery of machine guns. See officers with revolvers wading through the bodies that have been choreographed to fall “like sardines” in the pit; they shoot those still moving. See them work with equanimity and efficiency.

They needed both. After all, you can’t dispatch 33,371 Jews over two days without a plan. The Nazis had one. Blow up important buildings in Kiev and blame it on the Jews, calling them Bolshevik saboteurs, Communists and partisans. Use that as a pretext to eliminate the community of 230,000, mostly women, children and the elderly, the younger men having gone east to join the Soviets.

Post signs telling the Jews to gather with their belongings, bedsheets, winter coats. Years later, those confiscated items were sold in local markets.

All this took place on Sept. 29 and 30, 1941. It was the largest such operation up to then as the Nazis swept across the Soviet Union, which they had invaded in June. It was, as historians says, the Holocaust “by bullets” rather than gas.

There was no ghetto in Kiev like there were in Warsaw and Lodz in Poland and other cities in Ukraine. The mechanized killing that reached its apogee in the Nazi concentration camps came later.

That autumn they would kill Jews, gypsies, political prisoners, the mentally ill, Roma, Communists and Ukrainian nationalists, thought to number 100,000. Two years later, the leaching mass graves so alarmed retreating Germans fleeing the Soviets that they made prisoners dig up and burn the bodies, then killed them.

Eighty years after the massacre, in a climate of swelling anti-Semitism, we struggle to remember. In our unconscious world, where memory is easily manipulated, distorted or denied, who knows or cares?

Five years ago, when my son and I visited Babi Yar, we could barely find it. There were monuments at either end of the nearby subway station, but they were unimpressive. Worse, when we came upon what appeared to be the blood-lands, nothing marked what happened there.

Nothing. A grassy park, picnic grounds, slightly sunken. A couple sat on a blanket. Children roughhoused. Dogs roamed. No one seemed aware of the atrocity. It was nauseating.

In my season searching for the past in monuments, memorials and museums of Europe, this was the most wilful, brazen erasing of memory I’d seen.

What the Nazis tried to hide, the Soviets did, too. In 1961, Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko famously wrote: “No monument stands over Babi Yar/A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.”

Only after Ukraine became free was there any attempt to recognize the past. It was easier to forget, especially because some Ukrainians took part in the atrocity, too. History is a minefield, and no more so than when it is a killing field.

That’s changing. Ukraine is now remembering Babi Yar. The story is taught in schools; on the 80th anniversary last week, there were commemorations and programs in Kiev and beyond, attended by prominent politicians.

In the next five years, a museum, memorial and research centre are planned. Finally, Ukrainians want to come to terms with their uncomfortable past.

If the acknowledgement of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom, this is reason for hope.

Source: Cohen: Eighty years after the Babi Yar massacre, we struggle to remember and learn

A bold, controversial memorial to a wartime massacre in Kyiv

Of note:

On a balmy September evening locals stroll in a leafy park in Kyiv. Parents push prams. Couples kiss. Young men perch on benches with cans of beer and shawarmas. Among the trees and promenaders stand slabs of granite the height of a person. Implanted in each is a peephole, like the lens of a camera. Peer into one of them, and you see a colour photograph taken on this spot 80 years ago: a ravine, scattered clothes, three German officers looking over the edge. This is Babyn Yar.Listen to this story

The picture was taken at the beginning of October 1941. A few days earlier, on September 29th and 30th, Nazi forces shot 33,771 of the city’s Jews in the ravine (a figure that excludes small children). It was the biggest such massacre of the second world war. Over the next two years, perhaps 100,000 more people were killed, dumped and burned in the same place, including Roma, communists, Ukrainian resistance fighters and patients of a nearby psychiatric hospital. But the slaughter in Nazi-occupied Kyiv began with Ukraine’s Jews; 1.5m had perished by 1945, a quarter of all victims of the Holocaust.

The tragedy of Babyn Yar was never forgotten. Yet as both a topographical feature and a site of mourning, it all but vanished from the map after the war. Now, an international team of artists, scholars, architects and philanthropists is transforming the landscape again, physically and emotionally. The photographs are a small part of a vast project that involves museums, art installations, books, education initiatives and films. Endorsed by Volodymyr Zelensky, the country’s president, it is funded by businessmen including Mikhail Fridman, a Ukrainian-born Russian tycoon, his associate German Khan, and Viktor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch.

The mix of painful history, Russian involvement and oligarchs is explosive in today’s Ukraine. But the memorial’s ramifications go wider. Many countries have mass graves, “but nobody wants to remember [the victims]”, says Patrick Desbois, a Roman Catholic priest and adviser to the project who spent years documenting the “Holocaust by bullets”. The new memorial, he says, is a message to mass-murderers everywhere: “We always come back.”

For decades Babyn Yar was a place not only of murder but of the physical suppression of memory, first by the retreating Nazis, who scrambled to conceal their crimes, then by the Soviets. Josef Stalin wanted to celebrate his triumph, not mourn tragedy; after the war he launched a new anti-Semitic campaign of his own. Official historiography depersonalised the victims of Nazism as undifferentiated Soviet citizens.

Babyn Yar was levelled. In 1952 some of its cavities were flooded with pulp from a brick factory. There were plans to build a football stadium and entertainment park on top of it. The ravine did not go quietly: in 1961 a dam securing the pulp gave way and a mudslide carrying human remains hit a residential neighbourhood. Hundreds died (the exact toll was hushed up).

Later in the 1960s Viktor Nekrasov, a Kyiv-born Russian writer who had fought at Stalingrad and wrote about it movingly, spoke up about Babyn Yar. To him, covering up the Nazi genocide made the Soviet government complicit. Of the murder and “the subsequent attempt to forget about this murder, to eradicate the very memory of it”, he wrote in 1966, “the first is more tragic. The second is more shameful.”

Nekrasov led one of the first big commemorations of the massacre. Mourners, many of whom had known the victims, gathered at the edge of a Jewish cemetery that had been vandalised by both the Nazis and the Soviets. They held flowers and cried. The kgb cringed. The crowd was quickly dispersed; Nekrasov was expelled from the Communist Party and forced to emigrate. Then, in the early 1970s, Babyn Yar became a rallying point for Jewish dissidents. The Soviet authorities finally put up a monument near the site of the ravine, dedicated “to the Soviet citizens, prisoners and officers executed by the German occupiers”. There was no mention of Jews.

Murder and memory

If Soviet ideology had little room for the Holocaust, it has been a sensitive subject for some Ukrainians for other reasons. Millions of them fought in the Red Army; millions died, in and out of uniform. But in some places the Nazi slaughter was abetted by Ukrainian auxiliary policemen. In others Jews were slain by nationalist partisans. (In the 1960s Ivan Dziuba, a non-Jewish poet who spoke of his shame over anti-Semitism in Ukraine, was imprisoned.)

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Ukraine won independence, the area that had been Babyn Yar became a park. A jumble of plaques and memorials were erected; politicians paid their respects. But the main theme of historical restitution was the Holodomor—the famine Stalin inflicted on Ukraine in the 1930s, killing millions of peasants. As historical trauma often is in new states, the Holodomor became a central plank of national identity.

Five years ago Mr Fridman, the tycoon, saw an opportunity. Born in 1964, he grew up in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine where the large pre-war Jewish population had been all but obliterated. As a student in the 1980s he moved to Moscow and became one of Russia’s richest businessmen. After the revolution that overthrew Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed government in 2014, business and civil society helped fill a void left by the state’s confusion. Having made his fortune in the turbulence that followed the Soviet collapse, Mr Fridman knew that such moments should be seized.

In 2016 he assembled a coalition of businessmen, politicians, activists and intellectuals, both Jewish and gentile, and launched the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Centre. “Private money frees the project from state ideology,” Mr Fridman says.

How to remember the second world war is always a neuralgic subject. In Poland, references to Polish complicity in Nazi atrocities can result in legal action; in Russia, comparison between Stalinism and Nazism is now a crime. And the idea of private cash shaping memory of the conflict, and of the Holocaust, would be jarring anywhere. Given Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas—not to mention Kremlin propaganda that tars Ukrainians as fascist—the involvement of Russian citizens at Babyn Yar inevitably riled politicians and others. Some feared that the Holodomor would be downplayed. Petro Poroshenko, who as president until 2019 supported the initiative, now worries that representatives of Russia are using history to “discredit the Ukrainian state and Ukrainians”. Some local Jewish activists were irked by the outsiders too.

The appointment in 2019 of Ilya Khrzhanovsky, a Russian film director, as the project’s artistic overseer led to more controversy. His previous work includes a dark film installation exploring coercion and power in a Soviet physics institute, which caused scandals in Ukraine and elsewhere. Mr Fridman has been accused of nefarious meddling; Mr Khrzhanovsky’s initial ideas, such as a suggestion of role-playing by visitors as victims and killers, led to charges that he was planning a sort of Holocaust theme park.

The role-playing was dropped—but Mr Khrzhanovsky is determined to make an emotional impact on an audience for which the war is no longer part of living memory. Anton Drobovych, who left the project and now leads the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, a state body, is sceptical about both the approach and what he sees as the aloof way it has been implemented. “You can’t build a memorial of such national and international significance,” he thinks, “without a proper dialogue and consultation with society.”

The work is ongoing. Four museums, tackling different aspects of Babyn Yar’s history, are still to be built. But Mr Fridman, whose outlook is shaped as much by his Jewish roots and upbringing in Ukraine as by his affiliation to Russia, does not see the memorial as a way to attribute blame; for him it is a means to empower Ukrainian society. “The ability of a country to talk about its past is a sign of maturity,” Mr Fridman says. “People who assume the role of victim can rarely achieve success.”

Sergei Loznitsa, an unflinching Ukrainian film-maker, agrees. “Telling the truth about the Holocaust is intertwined with state-building in Ukraine and the forging of its national identity,” he says. His dispassionate documentary, “Babyn Yar. Context”, which was partly funded by the memorial project, had its premiere at this year’s Cannes film festival, to great acclaim. Based on German and Soviet archive footage, it shows devastated Soviet soldiers surrendering to German troops; Jews being abused by their neighbours in Lviv; jubilant crowds tearing down Stalin’s portraits and cheering the Nazis as liberators, and less jubilant crowds greeting Soviet soldiers a few years later.

The massacre at Babyn Yar was not filmed. Instead viewers see pictures of Kyiv’s Jews and a long, scrolling tribute from “Ukraine without Jews”, an essay by Vasily Grossman, a Soviet war correspondent and author of the epic novel “Life and Fate”, whose mother died in the Holocaust:

“Stillness. Silence. A people has been murdered. Murdered are elderly artisans…murdered are teachers, dressmakers; murdered are grandmothers who could mend stockings and bake delicious bread…and murdered are grandmothers who didn’t know how to do anything except love their children and grandchildren…This is the death of a people who had lived beside Ukrainian people for centuries, labouring, sinning, performing acts of kindness, and dying alongside them on one and the same earth.”

Grossman’s essay (translated by Polly Zavadivker) captures the ultimate purpose of the memorial as Mr Khrzhanovsky sees it: to rescue faces and voices from oblivion; to make them real, so they can be remembered, mourned and loved for who they were. “We want it to be a place of living memory and of empathy, where people—whatever their age or nationality—can establish their own emotional connection with those who died here. And you can only feel empathy for concrete people.”

He began by collecting names and scanning archives to construct biographies of victims and perpetrators. A team of forensic architects and historians studied old maps, soil samples, photographs and witness statements to reconstruct the lost topography, and the terrible events that followed the Nazi invasion. The information has been used to produce a3d model depicting scenes, buildings and people, which will be encased in a huge kurgan, or burial mound, erected on what was the edge of the ravine. The more detailed and tangible the story of Babyn Yar, the more universal its meaning is intended to be.

The life that was

Among the first art installations to be unveiled was a “mirror field”, designed by Maksym Demydenko and Denis Shibanov. A large stainless-steel disk covers the ground, from which rise ten vertical columns, shot through with bullets of the same calibre used by the Nazis in 1941 (see lead picture). Visitors see their own reflections in the perforated columns and are immersed in sounds that emanate from below—names, prayers and snippets of everyday life recorded in Kyiv before the war. When night falls, the field becomes a mirage of this extinguished life.

A path leads to the “crying wall” (pictured), created by Marina Abramovic, a feted Serbian artist, which will be completed before a state memorial service on October 6th. A 40-metre-long wall, made of Ukrainian coal, is embossed at the level of the head, heart and stomach with quartz crystals, meant to reflect the diversity of victims at Babyn Yar. Water weeps out. Nearby is a symbolic synagogue, designed by Manuel Herz, a Basel-based architect, made from Ukrainian oak and partly open to the elements. Once again, the past is present: the interior is decorated with copies of ornaments from long-gone synagogues in western Ukraine.

“Memory is not the past. It is the consequence of the past, it is what makes present life possible,” says Anna Kamyshan, who grew up in Ukraine and helped develop the project. Some of her forebears died in the Holocaust; others cheered the murderers. What defines her identity, she says, “is not my blood, but this landscape, this environment, this soil. This Babyn Yar.” 

Source: https://www.economist.com/books-and-arts/2021/09/18/a-bold-controversial-memorial-to-a-wartime-massacre-in-kyiv

Anger as French protesters compare vaccines to Nazi horrors

Outrageous but unfortunately all too typical of the more extreme anti-vaxxers:

A French Holocaust survivor has denounced anti-vaccination protesters comparing themselves to Jews who were persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. French officials and anti-racism groups joined the 94-year-old in expressing indignation.

As more than 100,000 people marched around France against government vaccine rules on Saturday, some demonstrators wore yellow stars recalling the ones the Nazis forced Jews to wear. Other demonstrators carried signs evoking the Auschwitz death camp or South Africa’s apartheid regime, claiming the French government was unfairly mistreating them with its anti-pandemic measures.

“You can’t imagine how much that upset me. This comparison is hateful. We must all rise up against this ignominy,” Holocaust survivor Joseph Szwarc said Sunday during a ceremony commemorating victims of antisemitic and racist acts by the French state, which collaborated with Adolf Hitler’s regime.

“I wore the star, I know what that is, I still have it in my flesh,” Szwarc, who was deported from France by the Nazis, said with tears in his eyes. “It is everyone’s duty to not allow this outrageous, antisemitic, racist wave to pass over us.”

France’s secretary of state for military affairs, who also attended the ceremony, called the protesters’ actions “intolerable and a disgrace for our republic.”

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism said the protesters were “mocking victims of the Holocaust” and minimizing crimes against humanity committed during World War II.

Saturday’s protests involved a mix of people angry at the government for various reasons, and notably supporters of the far right. Prominent French far-right figures have been convicted in the past of antisemitism, racism and denying the Holocaust.

The government is introducing a bill Monday requiring all health care workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and requiring COVID passes to enter restaurants and other venues.

At a large protest in Paris on Saturday against vaccine rules, one demonstrator pasted a star on his back reading “not vaccinated.” Bruno Auquier, a 53-year-old town councilor who lives on the outskirts of Paris, drew a yellow star on his T-shirt and handed out arm bands with the star.

“I will never get vaccinated,” Auquier said. “People need to wake up,” he said, questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Auquier expressed concern that the new measures would restrict his two children’s freedom and pledged to take them out of school if vaccination becomes mandatory.

Polls suggest most French people support the measures, but they have prompted anger in some quarters. Vandals targeted two vaccination centers in southwest France over the weekend. One was set on fire, and another covered in graffiti, including a reference to the Nazi occupation of France.

France has reported more than 111,000 deaths in the pandemic, and new confirmed cases are increasing again, raising worries about renewed pressure on hospitals and further restrictions that would damage jobs and businesses.

Source: Anger as French protesters compare vaccines to Nazi horrors