Mr Chairman – Ambassador Hasani, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Albanian OSCE Chairmanship for the opportunity to speak to the members of the Permanent Council today.
Today, seventy-five years ago, on 7 May 1945, Colonel General Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Wehrmacht, signed the instrument of the Wehrmacht’s unconditional surrender at the Supreme Headquarters of the Western Allies in Reims. A day later, on 8 May at 23.01 hours Central European Time the unconditional surrender enters into force. Shortly before Plenipotentiaries of the Chief of Operations Staff of the Wehrmacht and all forces had signed another document of unconditional surrender, again surrendering to all the Allied forces, this time in the presence of Marshal Georgi Zhukov and representatives of Supreme Headquarters of the Western Allies. This surrender took place at Berlin-Karlshorst. On the same day, the Red Army had reached the German concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia.
On 9 May 1945, Soviet soldiers from the 48th Army of the 3rd Belarusian Front marched into the German concentration camp Stutthof in Poland. The last two camps in the countries occupied by the German Reich had – finally – been liberated.
We will hear later – on about the liberation of the Concentration Camp of Mauthausen by US forces on 5 May. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my gratitude to Ambassador Paul for rendering informative insight into the history of the camp and its liberation. I understand that the Albanian Chairmanship had foreseen a visit to the Mauthausen Memorial during which one would have become aware of the international character of Nazi persecution: Women, men and children from numerous nations had been imprisoned there.
All over Europe there were people who risked their own lives and that of their families to hide and protect thousands of Jews who had managed to flee from Nazi terror and persecution. Yad Vashem has recognised them as Righteous among the Nations, among them also 69 Albanians.
8 May is a day of historical significance. A day of remembrance. 8 May makes one thing quite clear: remembering is subjective. It changes over the course of time depending on how a person is affected and on the debate within society.
It’s therefore all the more important to look at history on the basis of facts. It’s important to examine the facts time and again, to make a clear distinction between wish and reality, between myth and historical facts. We should therefore not watch in silence when those attacked are turned into the attackers, when the victims are called perpetrators. I therefore want to take this opportunity to stress that Germany alone unleashed the Second World War by attacking Poland. And Germany alone shoulders responsibility for the crime against humanity that was the Holocaust.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
I speak to you as the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Germany assumed this role on 3 March 2020 for one year until March 2021.
Not all that long ago, when confronted with the gas chambers, a visitor to the Sachsenhausen Memorial uttered these words: “If you want to know what a gas chamber looks like, you have to look at them in the USA ... in World War II there were only gas chambers in the USA”.
The founder of the environmental organisation Extinction Rebellion, Roger Hallam, described the Holocaust as “just another f***ery in human history”. These statements are not just historically wrong – they are shocking and threatening, and they are encouraging right-wing extremists. The IHRA wants to counter this trend by raising awareness and providing hard facts.
The German Chairmanship of the IHRA will thus focus on combating Holocaust denial and distortion. It will identify ways to take action against dangerous lies, the misrepresentation of facts and the trivialisation of the Holocaust in public, at memorial sites and also online.
Holocaust distortion doesn’t just pose a threat to the dignified memory of the victims, but also fundamental democratic values such as the protection of minorities, academic freedom and freedom of expression.
IHRA member states adopted a working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion in 2013 and developed internationally agreed criteria on what these terms mean. Starting at home, we will launch a campaign for the acceptance and application of this working definition in all IHRA member states.
How can we deal with this issue in memorial sites? What can we do about facts being twisted on the internet? How do we counter revisionist statements made by politicians?
To take effective action against the rising trend of Holocaust distortion, as well as growing antisemitism, political actors must coordinate their efforts at international level. At the start of my term as Chair, Germany initiated the creation of a Global Task Force against Holocaust Denial and Distortion. A network of international experts is going to develop and share successful strategies for responding to these issues. What does this mean in concrete terms:
We’re supporting the development and implementation of practical guidelines to counter denial and distortion (similar to the OSCE Words into Action programme), focusing on the areas of monitoring & reporting, training and museum and memorial work.
With these guidelines and implementation activities, we want to provide guidance for institutions to better identify, monitor and report incidents of denial and distortion, and to identify training programmes to increase awareness among policymakers and the judiciary. International bodies such as the OSCE/ODIHR are important partners for the development, promotion and implementation of these strategies, and we look forward to identifying synergies and working together closely.
Every denial or distortion of the Holocaust is, at the same time, an expression of antisemitism. Thinking back to the antisemitic attacks we have seen in recent years, it’s shocking that a crude misrepresentation of the Holocaust all too often fuelled the perpetrator’s motives. Jews are assigned at least partial responsibility for the Holocaust. The number of victims is deliberately played down.
It’s extraordinary that even the deceased can be the target of hatred. That is one of the reasons why antisemitism needs our special attention.
On 19 January, all IHRA ministers expressed the deepest concerns about rising antisemitism and reiterated their commitment to work together to fight antisemitism.
A crucial tool in this fight is the IHRA working definition on antisemitism adopted in 2016, during the Romanian Chairmanship. IHRA was the first intergovernmental body to adopt such a working definition. It has since become a guiding document not only for the IHRA but worldwide.
So far, 22 member countries of IHRA have endorsed the working definition. Many international bodies such as the EU or UN regularly refer to it. It has been used, for example, by the European Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism, the UK’s College of Policing and in police training in Estonia. It continues to be adopted by civil society - be it the Bavarian Brass Band Association or Chelsea FC.
The working definition of antisemitism has clearly established that antisemitism is a topical political issue which requires international political attention. Of course, each country has its own history and national context and antisemitism can and must be tackled differently in different places. But the common understanding of the threat antisemitism poses to our societies is universal.
In applying the definition of antisemitism, all examples cited therein must be considered. After all, antisemitism is often disguised as criticism of the State of Israel. The examples show where criticism stops and antisemitism begins, namely where double standards are applied and Israel’s existence is called into question.
During our Chairmanship, we will work to ensure that all IHRA member states and others accept the IHRA working definition. I therefore call upon the participating states of the OSCE which have not done so yet to endorse and apply it. The current COVID-19 crisis has been accompanied by a rise in hate speech, antisemitic verbal and physical attacks and also different forms of racism such as antigypsyism.
ODIHR has in recent years developed several useful guidelines to deal with antisemitism: for policy-makers including the police and prosecutors to address antisemitic hate crimes and security needs of Jewish communities; for civil society on how to strengthen networks and responses to antisemitism; and specialized teaching material to support school teachers to counter antisemitism. The guidelines have been translated into many languages. Therefore please make ample use of the guidelines in your countries to raise awareness and fight this plague. I would also like to express my thanks to all those who have contributed to the success of this project. Germany continues to support ODIHR´s work to address antisemitism together with our partners from the USA and CAN.
In 2020, Germany will advance the fight against antisemitism, antigypsyism and the denial and distortion of the Holocaust not only as Chair of the IHRA, but also during our EU Council Presidency and as Chair of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers.
- Just over a year ago, all EU member states pledged to develop strategies to counter antisemitism.
- Germany would like to share its experiences in that fight. A very useful tool is the nomination of national commissioners for the fight against antisemitism. We therefore call for a European network of commissioners to consolidate this fight in a European action plan.
The horrible attacks in Halle and in Hanau showed clearly: what starts with words can lead to brutal acts of violence and murder. A key element of our strategy must be to take action against hate speech. And here, we need to join forces internationally. During the German EU presidency, we will intensify the fight against online hate crime.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
We will never forget the darkest chapter in our shared history. In 2020, 75 years after the end of the Second World War, we still dream of a colourful, diverse and tolerant society in which there will never again be a place for antisemitism, antigypsyism or racism. For this dream to become a reality, we need the international community to join forces. We count on the OSCE and its participating States to join the fight.
On 03.03.2020 Germany took over the one year Chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). It is the foremost network of governmental representatives and experts whose…