Backgrounder — Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

As a key event during Canada’s Chair Year of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), bi-annual working meetings of over 175 experts, academics, and policymakers from around the world were held in Toronto from October 6-10, 2013. The meetings concluded at a plenary session, where consensus was reached on a number of important issues, including a working definition of Holocaust denial and distortion, which will support Canada’s goal of combating anti-Semitism by more accurately defining this continuing issue.

What is Holocaust denial?

“A Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion” – The present definition is an expression of the awareness that Holocaust denial and distortion have to be challenged and denounced nationally and internationally and need examination at a global level. IHRA adopted the following working definition of holocaust denial and distortion:

Holocaust denial is discourse and propaganda that deny the historical reality and the extent of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II, known as the Holocaust or the Shoah. Holocaust denial refers specifically to any attempt to claim that the Holocaust or Shoah did not take place.

Holocaust denial may include publicly denying or calling into doubt the use of principal mechanisms of destruction (such as gas chambers, mass shooting, starvation and torture) or the intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people.

Holocaust denial in its various forms is an expression of anti-Semitism. The attempt to deny the genocide of the Jews is an effort to exonerate National Socialism and anti-Semitism from guilt or responsibility in the genocide of the Jewish people. Forms of Holocaust denial also include blaming the Jews for either exaggerating or creating the Shoah for political or financial gain as if the Shoah itself was the result of a conspiracy plotted by the Jews. In this, the goal is to make the Jews culpable and anti-Semitism once again legitimate.

The goals of Holocaust denial often are the rehabilitation of an explicit anti-Semitism and the promotion of political ideologies and conditions suitable for the advent of the very type of event it denies.

What is Holocaust distortion?

Distortion of the Holocaust refers to:

  1. Intentional efforts to excuse or minimize the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany;
  2. Gross minimization of the number of the victims of the Holocaust in contradiction to reliable sources;
  3. Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide;
  4. Statements that cast the Holocaust as a positive historical event. Those statements are not Holocaust denial but are closely connected to it as a radical form of anti-Semitism. They may suggest that the Holocaust did not go far enough in accomplishing its goal of “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question”;
  5. 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.

Other Notable decisions at the plenary session included:

  • Advancement of the Multi-Year Work Plan with additional funding for research into killing sites outside of the death camps, access to Holocaust archives and to develop capacity for memorial day activities;
  • Establishment of a Yehuda Bauer Grant to recognize one outstanding proposal submitted through the IHRA Grant Program each year

The plenary session also included discussion of outreach to new countries and increasing cooperation with Permanent International Partners. 

In conjunction with the bi-annual meeting, events were held October 6-10 in cooperation with community organizations to support Holocaust commemoration, as well as an academic conference, hosted by the University of Toronto, which brought together 24 experts (from North America, Europe, Israel, Australia and Argentina) and showcased new Holocaust-related research. 

On October 7th, B’nai Brith Canada held a reception at the Law Society of Upper Canada, where Minister Uppal announced the launch of the Research Guide to Holocaust- related Holdings at the Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This project, supported by the Government of Canada, catalogues extensive Holocaust resources preserved at LAC.  These resources are vital to all those who want to learn more about this horrific crime against humanity. They will be especially valuable to educators across Canada working to instill in younger generations a commitment to the principle of ‘never again.’

Minister Kenney attended a gala dinner for IHRA participants hosted by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem on October 8th, where the Kottelengberg family, and the De Jongh family were in attendance. Gert Jan, Jan Kottelenberg, and Maria and Barend de Jongh were awarded posthumously with the Yad Vashem Righteous Among the Nations medal and certificate in recognition of their incredible heroism and moral fortitude in saving Jewish people during the Holocaust.

On October 10th, at an event in honour of Holocaust Survivor educators held in cooperation with the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Center, Minister Kenney announced that the Government of Canada will provide $800,000 for four organizations for projects aimed at preserving Holocaust survivor testimonials, to ensure that their stories are available for future generations. On October 9th, he also announced the winner of the Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education, a Toronto teacher, Scott Masters.

For more information about Canada’s partnership with IHRA

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