The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme organizes a series of interactive roundtable discussions designed to promote awareness of the lessons of the Holocaust and their implications for combating genocide today. By examining best practices to fight hatred, racism and Holocaust denial, the discussions aimed to mobilize civil society and the international community to help prevent mass violence.
Panel Discussion "Holocaust Education in Crisis"
To mark anniversary of November 1938 Pogrom, on 10 November the United Nations and UNESCO hosted a discussion entitled “Holocaust education in crisis? Challenges and responses”. It examined the implications of recent surveys of Holocaust education and possible responses to the challenges and opportunities they raise. Experts from leading Holocaust education institutions shared their future vision for Holocaust education against the backdrop of increasing generational gaps, digitalization, and rising mis- and disinformation.
Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division in the United Nations Department of Global Communications, and Cecilia Barbieri, Chief of the Global Citizenship and Peace Education Section at UNESCO, delivered welcoming remarks. The panel comprised Gretchen Skidmore, Director of Education Initiatives, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; Debórah Dwork, Founding Director, The Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity, Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, The Graduate Center–The City University of New York; Stuart Foster, Executive Director, Center for Holocaust Education, University College London; Elke Gryglewski, Head of the Educational Department, Memorial and Educational Site, House of the Wannsee Conference; and Yael Siman, Associate Professor, Department of Social and Political Science, Iberoamericana University. Karel Fracapane, Programme Specialist, Global Citizenship and Peace Education Section, UNESCO, served as a moderator.
Panel Discussion "Holocaust education in the virtual COVID-19 world"
On 21 October the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme hosted an online roundtable discussion to explore how institutions have harnessed the virtual world to further outreach about the Holocaust to diverse audiences, and the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for these institutions. Entitled “Holocaust education in the virtual COVID-19 world”, the discussion was moderated by Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming, and considered three case studies presented by the YIVO, Institute for Jewish Research, the Arolsen Archives and Echoes & Reflections. H.E. Ms. Audra Plepytė, Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the United Nations, delivered welcoming remarks. Speakers included Mr. Jonathan Brent, Director of YIVO, Institute for Jewish Research; Ms. Karolina Ziulkoski, Chief Curator of the YIVO Bruce and Francesca Cernia Slovin Online Museum; Dr. Floriane Azoulay, Director of the Arolson Archives; Ms. Ariel Behrman, Director of Echoes & Reflections.
Panel Discussion "From Pig Farm to Genocide Memorial: Lety and the Struggle for Recognition of the Genocide against the Roma and Sinti"
The discussion took place on 16 September and examined the impact of the Holocaust on the Roma and Sinti, and the struggle for recognition of the Lety concentration camp as a historical site of the campaign waged against them. The panel also considered how grief and catastrophic loss could be rendered in a memorial. The panel comprised Professor Ethel Brooks, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, United States; Anna Míšková, Museum of Romani Culture, Brno, Czech Republic; and Professor Julian Bonder, Roger Williams University, Rhode Island, United States.
Briefing "Fighting Stigma, Xenophobia, Hate Speech and Racial Discrimination related to COVID-19"
In April, at the launch of the United Nations’ policy brief on COVID-19 and Human Rights, the United Nations Secretary-General urged all to remember that “the threat is the virus, not people.” Supporting the Secretary-General’s call, the United Nations Department of Global Communications brought together a diverse panel of experts to discuss the actions civil society can take to counter the rise of racism and hate speech due to COVID-19, and to build solidarity and compassion in the fight against the virus of racism. It was fitting that the online briefing marked the International Day of Living Together in Peace.
Jeff Brez, Chief of the Civil Society Unit, welcomed participants and spoke about the work the Civil Society Unit has done to highlight civil society’s response to COVID-19, and to encourage collective action. Tracey Petersen, Manager of the Holocaust and the United Nations Holocaust Programme and moderator, opened the discussion by noting that the COVID-19 crises extended beyond the arena of physical health, revealing with devastating clarity society’s fault lines, and the inequalities that continue to be perpetrated. Ms. Petersen observed how fear of the virus, coupled with disinformation, created the perfect environment for prejudice to grow and be strengthened. Conspiracy theories have flourished and are being spread at lightning speed through social media. Age-old stereotypes and tropes have been recruited and refashioned to scapegoat, stigmatize and demonize. Ms. Petersen noted the important role education could play in challenging such prejudice. Through highlighting the complex history and pervasive traditions of “othering” across societies, from the racism that justified the transatlantic slave trade, to the “othering” that facilitated the Holocaust, education can serve to make prejudice visible when it appears, and to offer relevant examples of action taken in the past to contribute to the current fight against prejudice. Speaking specifically about antisemitism, Ms. Petersen pointed to that fact that while antisemitism can be traced back centuries, its deathly poison has not dimmed over time, finding new expression in the context of COVID-19. Antisemitic tropes, as well as Holocaust denial and distortion are increasingly evident in responses to COVID-19. COVID-19 takes place in the context of an international trend of growing antisemitism, as indicated by recent reports including those issued by the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. Ms. Petersen reminded the audience of the observation of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, that challenging antisemitism was a matter of importance for everyone, as antisemitism is, “toxic to democracy and poses a threat to all societies if left unaddressed”. Ms. Petersen concluded that if we are to build a world in which all can thrive with dignity and in peace, then it is in everyone’s interest to challenge hatred: we are all hurt by racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, homophobia, prejudice against disabled, the aged, xenophobia. In fighting hatred, we defend human rights.
Yizhong Yang, a Rutgers University graduate and intern in the Civil Society Unit spoke about his first encounter, in early January, with racism linked to COVID-19. A stranger told Mr. Yang to “go back to his country with your virus” because Mr. Yang was wearing a mask. Andrea Chu of Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Chicago Youth, argued that the wave of racism unleashed by the pandemic was related to “irrational fear and the greater economic fear”. Janice Matthias, Executive Director of the National Council of Negro Women, observed that the disproportionate numbers of African Americans who have died because of COVID-19 reflected the impact of systemic racism, and the way this systemic racism undermined the human right of all to quality health care. Doctors and nurses working to save lives and fight COVID-19 too have been stigmatized. Franklin A. Shaffer, CEO and President of CGFNS International, and Nico Sciasci, Programme Manager, International Centre on Nurse Migration, gave accounts of caregivers’ experience of harassment and threats in the community where they live, some being asked to move from their homes, others evicted. Panellists also discussed strategies of addressing prejudice that has found expression anew in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Simona Cruciana, Political Affairs Officer from the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, described the measures being taken by the United Nations Secretary-General and the United Nations in addressing these concerns. She singled out the global appeal made on 8 May 2020 to counter hate speech and the recent publication of the United Nations Guidance Note on Addressing and Countering COVID-19 related Hate Speech.
Craig Mokhiber, Director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York, pointed to the United Nations mechanisms that could be helpful in holding governments to account, such as the Secretary-General’s system wide strategy to address hate speech, special rapporteurs, treaties and universal periodic reviews. Mr. Mokhiber’s statement that “solidarity is the best vaccine against the virus of racism” resonated strongly. Jadayah Spencer, the Executive Director of the International Youth Leadership Institute, spoke about her work in preparing black youth for a world with increasing disparities, and emphasized the importance of creating safe spaces in a time when the future is increasingly unknown, especially for those who are the most marginalized. Akshaya Kumar, Crisis Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, delivered the concluding remarks. She shared numerous accounts of incidents of prejudice, racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, homophobia, stigmatization, and gender-based violence around the world, related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Echoing the sentiments of all speakers, Ms. Kumar called on civil society organizations to work together in solidarity to establish an action plan to combat the inequalities exposed, created and exacerbated by the pandemic, and in this way, to create structures that were equitable and just.
Panel Discussion "Addressing and preventing antisemitism through education"
Antisemitism did not begin with the Holocaust, nor, sadly did it end when the Holocaust ended. The need to challenge antisemitism, and recognize the forms it takes, is of growing importance as the incidents of hate speech, hate crimes and antisemitism rise alongside neo-Nazism and the increasingly visible supremacist movement. How education can serve to address these issues was the topic of discussion at a special roundtable discussion organized by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, UNESCO, and the Office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief on the 18 October at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The event titled “Addressing and preventing antisemitism through education” marked the presentation of the report by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, to the United Nations General Assembly on 17 October 2019.
The roundtable speakers addressing a packed room at UN Headquarters, encouraged Member States and international and national stakeholders to mobilize behind the need to address antisemitism in and through education. Ms. Melissa Fleming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and Ms. Marie Paule Roudil, Director for the UNESCO Office in New York delivered welcoming remarks. Professor Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Member of Parliament delivered the keynote speech. The panel speakers addressed antisemitism around the world. The panel speakers comprised Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Raffi Gregorian, Director and Deputy to the Under-Secretary-General at United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, Mr. Mark Weizmann, Director of Government Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Ms. Dina Wyler, Jewish Diplomatic Corps of the World Jewish Congress, Ms. Felice Gaer, Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. Mr. Karel Fracapane, Programme Specialist for UNESCO moderated the event.
Panel Discussion on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews
10 March is designated by decree of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria as the Day of the Rescue of the Bulgarian Jews and of the Victims of the Holocaust and of the Crimes against Humanity. A panel of Holocaust survivors and representatives of Jewish organizations, academia, filmmaking, and diplomatic community will discuss the rescue of 48,000 Bulgarian Jews during the Holocaust. Speakers included H.E. Mr. Georgi Panayotov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations, Ms. Kimberly Mann, Chief, Education Outreach Section, United Nations Department of Public Information, Mr. Harry D. Wall, former ADL Director, Israel and former Associate Director, International Relations; Board Member, The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights, Dr. Joseph Benatov, Jewish Studies Program, University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Elka Nikolova, Movie Director and Producer, Mr. Chaim Zemach, Holocaust survivor, Dr. Shirley Gatenio Gabel, Fordham University.
Panel Discussion “Holocaust Remembrance and Public Memorials: The Complexities and Challenges of Facing the Past”
In observance of the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar Massacre, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, in partnership with the Permanent Missions of Ukraine and Israel, has organized a panel discussion “Holocaust Remembrance and Public Memorials - the Complexities and Challenges of Facing the Past”. More than 33,000 Jewish men, women and children were murdered at Babi Yar, near Kiev, on 29 and 30 September 1941. This massacre is one of the largest mass killings at an individual location during the Second World War. It is estimated that some 100,000 people, including Jews, Roma, Communists and Soviet Prisoners, were murdered at Babi Yar between 1941 and 1945. Holocaust experts and scholars from Brazil, Japan, Israel, United States, Ukraine and South Africa discussed the relationship between Holocaust remembrance, public memory, and education in their countries. They have also highlighted their education programmes for youth.
Panel Discussion "After the Holocaust – Primo Levi and the Nexus of Science, Responsibility and Humanism"
The Holocaust and United Nations Outreach Programme in partnership with the Centro Primo Levi New York organised a roundtable discussion titled “After the Holocaust – Primo Levi and the Nexus of Science, Responsibility and Humanism”. The event took place on 4 May 2016 on the occasion of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day on the Hebrew calendar). The roundtable discussion explored themes found in Primo Levi’s writings including scientific ethics, history and memory, language and transmission, and justice and responsibility. After a dramatic reading of a passage identified from recently published "The Complete Works of Primo Levi", a panel of scholars and writers commented on Levi’s work. The event also demonstrated the universal appeal of Primo Levi and his contribution to humanity.
Panel Discussion "Faith, Identity and the Promotion of Peace in the Aftermath of Genocide"
United Nations staff members, Holocaust survivors and civil society groups discussed how faith and circumstances help shape an individual’s identity, influence one’s actions and attitudes, and can encourage the promotion of peace at a roundtable organized by the Department of Public Information’s Holocaust Programme on 18 November 2015 at New York Headquarters.
Ambassador Danny Danon, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, speaking next to a burnt stone salvaged from the Great Synagogue in Mannheim, Germany that was set aflame during the 1938 Kristallnacht Pogroms, noted that the stone represented one of the darkest times in human history and the history of the Jewish people. Event moderator Ramu Damodaran, Chief, United Nations Academic Impact Initiative, drew a parallel between the hostility and wariness facing refugees today and 75 years ago, when nearly all countries closed their doors to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler.
Panellists reflecting on faith, identity and the promotion of peace Mr. Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide, Rabbi Eliot J. Cosgrove, from New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue, Mr. Menachem Z. Rosensaft, son of two survivors of the infamous Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. Ms. Adisada Dudic, attorney and survivor of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, and Ms. Consolée Nishimwe, author and survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Rabbi Cosgrove said that strength and peace are not “either or” propositions, but both “and” propositions. “The United Nations has the opportunity and the obligation to be the prophetic voice of both of these obligations and to be a hand of compassion and haven for a humanity that is once again suffering terrible affliction”, he added. Ms. Nishimwe highlighted the importance of individual action and strongly advocated that wherever people see injustice it is essential that to speak out against it. Ms. Dudic a survivor of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, shared her moving story and voiced her disappointment that the UN Security Council failed to pass a resolution this year, on the 20th anniversary of the tragic events, that would have strongly condemned as genocide the crimes at Srebrenica as established by the judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.
Multimedia Presentation "Toscanini - A Conductor Stands Up for Justice"
On 28 April 2015, the United Nations Department of Public Information’s Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme with the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations and B’nai B’rith International organized an event titled “Toscanini – A Conductor Stands Up for Justice”, that paid tribute to the celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini and his opposition to Fascism and Nazism during the Second World War.
Through a multimedia presentation that included historical footage, interviews and music from the period, author and conductor Cesare Civetta discussed Toscanini’s musical style and philosophy. He highlighted Toscanini’s refusal to support the racist ideology and oppression espoused by both Mussolini and Hitler, as well as Toscanini’s travel to the British Mandate to conduct an orchestra of young Jewish musicians escaping Nazi Europe, known today as the Israel Philharmonic.
Ms. Natalia Indrimi, Executive Director, Centro Primo Levi, provided the historical background of the persecution of the Jews in Italy. Mr. Allan J. Jacobs, President, and Mr. Daniel S. Mariaschin, Executive Vice President, B’nai B’rith International, acknowledged the important contribution Arturo Toscanini made to the struggle against fascism and underscored the universal values of integrity, moral courage and social responsibility. Other speakers included Ms. Cristina Gallach, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information; Mr. Giovanni Davoli, First Counselor and Spokesman to the United Nations Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations. The event was moderated by Ms. Kimberly Mann, Chief, Education Outreach Section, Outreach Division.
Panel Discussion "United Nations War Crimes Commission Records (1943-1949): Past, Present and Future"
In observance of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme of the Department of Public Information organized a panel discussion titled “United Nations War Crimes Commission Records: Past, Present and Future”, moderated by Ms. Edith Lederer, Chief correspondent for the Associated Press at the United Nations, on 11 November 2014 at United Nations Headquarters, NYC. Opening the panel discussion, Ms. Hua Jiang, Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Department of Public Information, underscored the historical significance and potential use of the records of the Commission
Speakers included H.E. Mr. Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations; Mr. Adama Dieng, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide; Ms. Bridget Sisk, Chief of the United Nations Archives and Records Management Section; Mr. Patrick J. Treanor, former member of the Office of Special Investigations of the United States Department of Justice; Dr. Dan Plesch, Director of the Centre for Diplomatic Studies and Diplomacy of the University of London; and Mr. Henry Mayer, Senior Adviser on Archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Noting its “unique endeavour”, Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji provided the participants with an overview of the establishment of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and its Far Eastern and Pacific Sub-Commission. In the light of the principles of the 1942 Declaration of the United Nations, the Commission was created on 20 October 1943 by 17 Allied nations to collect, investigate and record evidence of war crimes, and to report cases to the government concerned. Faced by challenges, including gathering detailed information on war criminals as war crimes were occurring and the lack of a legal basis for the punishment and extradition of war criminals, the Commission continued its work until the end of March 1948. Before shutting down, the Commission published “Information concerning Human Rights Arising from Trials of War Criminals” (E/CN.4/W.19).
In 1949, the custody of the records of the United Nations War Crimes Commission was given to the United Nations Secretariat. Bridget Sisk explained that those records consist of minutes, documents and reports of the Commission and its Committees, the Research Office, and the Far Eastern and Pacific Sub-Commission, periodical lists of War Criminals, Suspects, Witnesses (including approximately 37,000 names) and related material of the main Commission and of the Far Eastern and Pacific Sub-Commission, and correspondence mainly with various national offices. In 1986, allegations of war crimes were made against Kurt Waldheim, former United Nations Secretary-General, based on his service as a Wehrmacht officer in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia during the Second World War. The rules regarding access to the records – which contained evidence of suspected crimes that may not have led to conviction at trial – were seriously challenged The Commission had required permission from the Secretary-General and the Member State concerned in order to gain access through the United Nations. Subsequently, the United Nations Secretariat conducted a review of the access rules applied to these archives.
Following this review, the 1987 Revised Rules for Access to records of the United Nations War Crimes Commission continued to restrict access at the United Nations Headquarters “to any person engaged in serious research in the history of the Commission or in related problems in international law or associated fields”. However, a copy of the records had been provided to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which made the records public in July 2014. Henry Mayer announced that “anyone, with a valid ID card could now access the records at the Museum library” in Washington, D.C.. He explained the role of the Museum in rescuing the evidence of the Holocaust and ensuring it is preserved and made available to the public. The work of the Commission also helps to bring closure to the families of the victims and provides insights into the accountability mechanisms used to bring war criminals to justice in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Adama Dieng further explained the important process of accountability and “how essential it is to ensure not only that the past is remembered but also that we learn from it” in order to prevent genocide and other atrocity crimes He recalled the importance of gathering and keeping records and bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice. Furthermore, Patrick Treanor, explained how he used the records of the Commission, in the 1980s, to investigate Nazi war criminals, including Kurt Waldheim, who was at that time the President of Austria.
Panellists also paid tribute to the influence of the Commission on the development of international law and international criminal law. Adama Dieng said the Commission was “international criminal law in the making”. He noted that the Commission set a precedent of central authority to investigate war crimes and paved the way for the principle of complementarity, one of the key principles of the International Criminal Court. Dan Plesch credited the Commission with important contributions to the development of core areas of criminal justice and human rights, including the prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes, such as rape, as a war crime. He added that low-level criminals, as well as top-leaders, were convicted for their own crimes and for being in command of the troops that committed them. In addition, convictions were handed down for the war crimes of rape and forced prostitution. During the Q&A session, the panellists all agreed that the world would have benefitted much more from an earlier analysis of the records of the work of the Commission, especially in dealing with war crimes in the 1990’s and today. It was about time we acknowledge the legacy of the Commission and its records in dealing with war crimes, Adama Dieng said in closing.
Panel Discussion "Learning about the Holocaust through the Arts"
Artists and academics joined in a panel discussion, which explored Holocaust education through dance, literature, music and film. Developed in the context of a new educational approach with the goal of reaching out to a broader audience, the event, organized by the Department of Public Information, in partnership with the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress, brought together students of the various art forms from over 30 schools and universities.
“Incorporating the arts in teaching about the Holocaust helps us to further personalise stories and appeal to all of our senses”, said Under-Secretary-General Launsky-Tieffenthal in his opening remarks. This power of art in communicating a story was introduced with a presentation of the ballet “Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project”, which Stephen Mills, Artistic Director for Ballet Austin, wrote in the aftermath of 9/11. He based it on the life of Holocaust survivor Naomi Warren, who joined him in the presentation. “You can have a very wealthy life, but all those things can disappear. But what you have learned always will guide you,” said Mrs. Warren, who survived three different Nazi concentration camps.
Israeli author Nava Semel spoke about how literature was cathartic for her in learning about the traumatic experience endured by her Holocaust survivor parents. She explained how her family avoided talking about their experience in order to protect each other. She sees art as a way of “sending an emotional message into the future” that can move the heart, mind and spirit, and help develop “responsible human beings”. This powerful message is the leitmotif of her book “And the Rat Laughed”, which was brought to life by Academy award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis.
Olga Gershenson, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst presented films that had been banned or had disappeared during the Holocaust. She explained how “Professor Mamlock” succeeded in educating Soviet Jews about Hitler before the 1939 "Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact" between Hitler and Stalin. People who saw the film, she said “knew not to trust the Soviet propaganda… and escaped and were saved. People who remained in their home towns were murdered right there".
Clive Marks and Professor Shirli Gilbert concluded the evening by speaking about the power of music as an educational tool, and presented the ORT “Music and the Holocaust” website which stores a database of music produced, and listened to, by inmates during the Holocaust. “Songs were a means… to make sense of a frightening and ever changing reality”, said Ms. Gilbert. “Songs became a kind of storehouse of the victims’ shared interpretations of what was happening”.
High-level Panel Discussion marking the 65th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
The 2013 anniversary commemoration of the first-ever human rights action taken by the United Nations, attended by a top-level cast from government, civil society and the international community, became an occasion for taking stock of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Speakers assessed as well options for taking action to head off possible future violence against civilian populations.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the best way to head off mass atrocities is to take action before a downward death spiral becomes unstoppable. “Genocide does not happen overnight,” the Secretary-General said in his message of 9 December. “In the work that we are starting now, which we call “Rights Up Front”, we are trying to identify human rights violations [at] the first sign of a crisis evolving”. The message was delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, as the Secretary-General himself had to abruptly alter his schedule so he could attend the funeral of Nelson Mandela.
“There is a connection between Nelson Mandela and what we are doing here today”, the Deputy Secretary-General said, citing the South African’s championship of human equality and reconciliation. Drafted by three giants in the field of human rights – Raphael Lemkin, Vespasian Pella and Henry Donnedieu de Vabres – and adopted at the first UN General Assembly in 1948, the Genocide Convention was largely a response to the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of six million Jews and many other members of minority groups.
The Deputy-Secretary-General welcomed to the anniversary event relatives of Convention advocate and co-author Raphael Lemkin (also the originator of the term “genocide”). A native of Poland, virtually all of his relatives died either in concentration camps or in anti-Nazi resistance movements. But one cousin survived, and his children, Joseph and Rachel Lemkin, attended the 2013 anniversary observation at the UN. They in turn were accompanied by those termed by the Deputy Secretary-General as “the new generation” -- Joseph’s 12-year-old daughter, and Rachel’s two similarly young daughters.
Panel Discussions “The Holocaust by Bullets: Uncovering the Reality of Genocide”
The Department of Public Information and the Permanent Missions of France and the Russian Federation to the United Nations observed the 74th anniversary of “Kristallnacht”, which many historians consider to be the beginning of the Holocaust. To mark the historic event, on 7 November The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme presented a panel discussion “The Holocaust by Bullets: Uncovering the Reality of Genocide”. The event focused on the groundbreaking work of Father Patrick Desbois and his team of researchers from Yahad-In Unum who in recent years have identified over 800 extermination sites in Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine. Their work has helped countless families understand what happened to their loved ones.
“Our goal is three-fold: I want to give back to the families, give back to the Jewish community, and fight against those that deny the Holocaust”, explained Father Desbois in response to a question about the impact of his work. “The deniers are a strong influence on young people". In his opening remarks, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, Under-Secretary-General of Communications and Public Information, underscored the importance of Yahad-In Unum’s work in restoring dignity to the victims. "I commend Father Desbois and Yahad-In Unum for their tireless efforts to recover the dignity of the Jewish and Roma victims of this brutality. By identifying their unmarked mass graves, you have set history on its proper course. No longer will these mothers, fathers and children remain forgotten. No longer silent, their bodies will remain testimony to the truth".
Ambassador Martin Briens, Deputy Permanent Representative of France, reminded participants of the dangers of hate. “It is especially important for France to be present here today because our country experienced a tragedy this year”, said the French ambassador. “We must show no weakness in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and terrorism and we must break these destructive cycles as swiftly as possible”. Also participating in the event were Andrej Umansky, a historian at Yahad-In Unum; and Gillian Kitley, Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, who touched on the historical aspects of the Holocaust, and the role of the international community in preventing genocide. The discussion was moderated by Pamela Falk of CBS News.
Panel Discussion “From Forgotten Memory to Nascent Remembrance: Holocaust History and Education in Russia Today”
On 8 November 2012, the Programme partnered with the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in an event which examined the Holocaust in the German-occupied Soviet territory and the status of Holocaust education in Russia today. Moderated by Ramu Damodaran, Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement of the Department’s Outreach Division, the event featured the work of Professor Ilya Altman, who was instrumental in introducing the Holocaust in curricula in Russia in the early 1990s. Until that time, little had been written about Nazi crimes in the former Soviet Union.
In his remarks, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation Sergey N. Karev explained how Professor Altman and his team have helped demystify the horrors of the Second World War. “As you know, the Russian Mission to the UN is one of the co-organizers of today's discussion, devoted to the study of little-known pages of the horrors of World War II in the former Soviet Union, which was occupied by Nazi troops. For our country, which lost in the years of the war, more than 20 million of its citizens, it is also a matter of honour and duty. It is our common duty to those who gave their lives for the triumph of the ideals of peace, humanity, human rights and dignity", he told participants.
Panel Discussion "Marking Raoul Wallenberg's Centenary"
The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme partnered with the Museum of Jewish Heritage- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, and the Permanent Missions of Hungary and Sweden to the United Nations to observe the centenary of the birth of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg on 19 September 2012. David Marwell, Director of the Museum, interviewed authors Kati Marton and Beng Jangfeldt on the life and legacy of Mr. Wallenberg, who is credited with saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust. Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, United Nations Under-Secretay-General for Communications and Public Information, and Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General were featured speakers.
Press Release: United Nations to Mark Raoul Wallenberg’s Centenary with Special Event at Museum of Jewish Heritage
UN News: Tribute paid to life and legacy of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg at UN-backed event
Panel Discussion “Cambodia: A Quest for Justice”
From 1975 until 1979, Cambodia was ruled by communist ideologist Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who came to power after overthrowing the Government. His vision was to create a classless utopian society and return Cambodia to its agrarian roots. In the process, he would cleanse the country of all minorities, intellects and those deemed unfaithful to the regime. Almost 2 million Cambodians perished during his reign. The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme partnered with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance New York to examine the issues that led to mass murder during the PolPot regime in Cambodia and current efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. The film screening and round table discussion took place on Wednesday, 30 May 2012 at the Museum.
Distinguished panellists included Andi Gitow and Susan Farkas, co-producers of the film Cambodia: A Quest of Justice; Stephen Mathias, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs; Professor Alex Hinton, Executive Director for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution and Human Rights at Rutgers University; Socheata Poeuv, founder and CEO of Khmer Legacies.
Maher Nasser, Acting Head, United Nations Department of Public Information, opened the event. Andi Gitow and Susan Farkas presented thier Emmy-nominated United Nations documentary. Through the personal stories of two individuals who survived imprisonment in Tuol Slengprison, or S-21, the film chronicles the suffering of the prisoners and covers the trial of former prison head Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch. He was the first Khmer Rouge leader to be tried by the United Nations-backed international tribunal. In July 2010, judges found Duch responsible for the death of 12,272 lives and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. On 3 February 2012, after hearing Duch’s appeal, the court sentenced him to life in prison. Other Khmer Rouge leaders have yet to be tried.
After the film screening Mark Weitzman, Director of Government Affairs and the Director of the Task Force against Hate and Terrorism for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, introduced the panellists and moderated the discussion. Stephen Mathias, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, talked about the role of the United Nations in Cambodia and the progress being made in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Professor Alex Hinton, an anthropologist and expert on Cambodia, gave valuable insight into the culture of the country and an understanding of the difficulties that Cambodians are facing in the aftermath of Khmer Rouge regime.
Socheata Poeuv shared her personal story as a child survivor and explained how that experience pushed her to start Khmer Legacies, a project in which children interview their parents about surviving the Cambodian genocide. She talked about the challenges that survivors and their families are facing today. In Cambodian schools students are often not taught about this part of the history and some in younger generation grow up believing that genocide never happened.
Panel Discussion “The Trial of Adolf Eichmann: 50 Years Later”
The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme organized a roundtable discussion on 23 April at United Nations Headquarters to mark the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the most important events in Holocaust history. Distinguished speakers included Minister Peled of Israel, a child survivor; Mark S. Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association; Amos Hausner, an attorney and son of Prosecutor Gideon Hausner; Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and author of The Eichmann Trial; and Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, United Nations Messenger of Peace and human rights activist who covered the trial for the newspaper The Forward. The panellists explored the psychological, social and legal aspects of the trial, including its influence on justice and accountability in the twenty-first century.
Minister Peled shared his heart wrenching experience as a child survivor who had been raised by a Christian family. He described his emotions and disbelief upon learning at the age of nine that he had been adopted by a surrogate family. Hundreds of Jewish children were hidden or raised as gentiles in order to protect them during the Holocaust. Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association focused his remarks on the principal of universal jurisdiction. He explained how the Holocaust had changed the paradigm of international law and how the Eichmann case brought the concept of universal jurisdiction to the forefront. The case set a precedent for the Courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court. He challenged the audience when he asked, “Will the legacy of the Eichmann case and its strong position in promoting universal jurisdiction be the same 50 years from now?”
Amos Hausner, son of Prosecutor Hausner, spoke about his father’s role and the legacy of the Eichmann trial. He said that everything Eichmann did was legal in the country where he acted, however the Israeli court rejected Eichmann’s plea of innocence for following orders. As at the Nuremberg trials, the individual would be held accountable for his actions. Mr. Hausner also underlined the importance of international laws that would serve as a deterrent to genocide. Professor Lipstadt emphasized that the Eichmann trial forever changed the world’s perception of victims of genocide. She explained how the testimonies of the survivors “opened the world’s eyes to genocide in an unprecedented fashion”. According to Ms. Lipstadt, another important element of the trial was that for the first time the Jewish people were able to sit in judgement on crimes committed against their own people.
Professor Wiesel gave his impressions of the trial from a journalist’s point of view. During the trial, Professor Wiesel had noted how Eichmann showed no sign of remorse – he slept well, ate well, and appeared to be inhuman. Professor Wiesel ended his remarks with the observation “what we have learned from those bitter times is that it was human to be inhuman”.
Roundtable Discussion "Justice and Accountability after the Holocaust”
On 9 November 2011, The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, in partnership with the International Bar Association, held a roundtable discussion “Justice and Accountability after the Holocaust”, in observance of the 65th anniversary of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. The tribunal was an important milestone in history and helped to lay the legal foundation for international tribunals that have followed, as well as the Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court was established.
Distinguished speakers included Cecile Aptel, Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s War Crimes Committee and Professor at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University; Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; Patricia Heberer, a historian with the Centre for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Karen Odaba Mosoti, Head of the Liaison Office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to the United Nations. Ramu Damodaran, Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement, Outreach Division, United Nations Department of Public Information, moderated the discussion. Each of the panellists offered their perspectives of the actions of the German courts under Nazi rule, and the proceedings of the Nuremberg trials.
Cecile Aptel of the International Bar Association spoke about the responsibility of the judiciary not only for the application of law, but for the development of law. She challenged participants when she asked, “What should lawyers and judges do when political systems fail and turn against citizens?” Patricia Heberer of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum focused her remarks on the discriminatory laws that were upheld in Nazi Germany. She explained that over 400 anti-Jewish laws and exclusionary decrees were developed under Nazi rule. Irwin Cotler of Canada discussed similarities between the Holocaust and genocides that have followed. He underlined the dangers of state sanctioned hate, indifference, cultures of impunity, and the complicity of the elite. “Judges, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and architects all participated in the Nazi plan”, he said.
Karen Odaba Mosoti of the ICC emphasized that Nuremberg established that men were responsible for the crimes that had been committed under Nazi rule, and not an abstract force. Individuals would be held accountable and could no longer claim they were simply “following orders”. She described the cases that were currently before the court and said they were similar to the Nuremberg crimes but in a current context. According to Ms. Mosoti, one of the major challenges facing the court today is the lack of universal participation. Only 115 countries have signed up to the Rome Statute, which leaves the populations of many countries vulnerable to the worst offences committed by mankind.
Panel Discussion: “Nowhere to turn”
The pogrom against the Jews of 9 and 10 November 1938 symbolized the shattering of Jewish life in Germany and marked the intensification of Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would lead to mass murder of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. In order to observe the 70th Anniversary of what is now known as the Kristallnacht pogrom, the Outreach Division’s Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme organized a panel discussion on the theme "Nowhere to turn" on 10 November 2008 in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium at United Nations Headquarters.
The briefing was moderated by Eric Falt, Director of the Outreach Division, and featured six panelists. Following the opening remarks by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka, Professor David Engel (New York University) provided the audience with an historical perspective on the Kristallnacht pogrom.
Gary Phillips, who witnessed the Kristallnacht pogrom in Berlin when he was 16, shared his personal testimony. As China was one of the few countries where Jews could find a safe haven following the pogrom, the event also profiled Jewish emigration to Shanghai, and Professor Pan Guang, Dean of the Centre for Jewish Studies of Shanghai presented the Jewish Ghetto of Shanghai. Professor Alizabeth Newman, Director of Immigrant Initiative and Instructor at CUNY School of Law outlined the populations at risk and the factors affecting immigration policy. The keynote address was delivered by Her Excellency Ms. Gabriela Shalev, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations, who addressed the impact of the Kristallnacht pogrom, its lasting effects an the lessons that this history offers today.