“We share a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to honour those who stood against it.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
Former IHRA Chair Ambassador Karel de Beer's Blog
Netherlands Chairmanship 2011
Ambassador Karel de Beer started a new blog in 2011 to share the work and activities of the Chairmanship.
8 February 2012
After a relative quiet start of 2012 there were a number of travels still on my schedule. In addition we had to work on the follow-up of the Plenary session of 1 December 2011 and to work together with Belgium on the handing over of part of the agenda to their Chairmanship, which will start in early March.
Last month I visited Ankara and Istanbul at the invitation of the Turkish government. ITF's Executive Secretary and I discussed with the Turkish Head of Delegation, Ambassador Tezgör, the Turkish ambitions to become a liaison country, and eventually a full member of the ITF. We met with the newly established national ITF steering group, which is comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Education, Foreign Affairs, Academia and the Jewish community. With the Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Undersecretary Ambassador Halit Çevik I discussed the political context of ITF membership. From the discussion it became clear that the Government of Turkey is very serious about its membership of the ITF. I have communicated to the Government about the work that still has to be done. I think that both sides were satisfied in the way the discussions went.
In Istanbul we were welcomed by the Jewish community. With only 20,000 people, the Jewish community in Turkey is small. However, the community is well organized and professional, with a very active and committed membership. After a courtesy visit to the deputy Chief Rabbi, we went to the largest synagogue in Istanbul, which faced two bomb attacks in the last decades. Subsequently we visited the small but very nice Jewish museum, located in a former synagogue in the heart of what was once the Jewish quarter of Istanbul. We were offered a lunch at the Jewish hospital with all the main stakeholders in the Jewish community. Clearly, the Jewish community strongly supports Turkish membership of the ITF. Our last stop was the University of Istanbul where we discussed with young academics how they look at the recent history of the Holocaust and the history of their own country.
Holocaust Memorial Day: Estonia, Lithuania and Serbia
To underline the importance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day I visited three countries in 5 days. I started in Estonia where I was invited to attend a Teacher's Seminar of the History of the Holocaust in Estonia and the region. It was organized by a local NGO and the government. I spoke on the issues at hand in the spirit of my discussions with the Jewish Community in Tallinn, who had just published a booklet on that specific history where they mentioned that Estonia was "stamped Judenfrei" at the time of the Wannsee Conference in early 1942.
The seminar also paid attention to the whole region, which provided more context for the teachers.
I travelled to Lithuania to have an early morning breakfast with the head of the Lithuanian Delegation, Vice Minister Skaisgiryte. Afterwards I travelled to Šiauliai, the other side of the country, to attend part of a three day seminar (the 3rd in a row of 4 of such seminars) organized by the US Embassy, the Jewish Museum and the ITF. It was a real working seminar where the participants received three days of education and training in all aspects of the Holocaust. There were a number of speakers and many different points of view. Jonathan Berger and his staff of the US Embassy should be commended for their excellent organization of this event.
My task was simple: together with Markas Zingeris I handed over the certificates to the participants at the end of the seminar. On the way back in the car with Roger Cohen of the New York Times, I experienced what a real winter means in that part of Europe.
That last country I visited was Serbia on the 27th of January. President Tadic attended the wreath laying ceremony at the former concentration camp Staro Sajmiste in Belgrade. I laid a wreath on behalf of the member states of the ITF and afterwards the President expressed to the representatives of the local Jewish community, the Israeli Ambassador, and myself, his determination to make Staro Sajmiste a permanent monument for Holocaust Remembrance.
Members of the Serbian Delegation have worked hard over the last month to prepare the exhibition on the Holocaust in Serbia. It was opened on the 27th and I attended and spoke on that occasion.
It was an impressive and often emotional exhibition and I expressed the hope that - also with a view on all the work that was put into the preparation - this exhibition would also be shown in other parts of Serbia.
On the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, UNESCO organized a conference entitled "International Dimensions of Holocaust Education" and a "Ceremony of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust". The conference had a high ITF content. It was organized by UNESCO's delegate to the ITF and former Chair of the MMWG Karel Fracapane. Our Honorary Chairman, Yehuda Bauer, delivered a keynote speech, and I had the honor of chairing the final session. It was a well attended and challenging event; it underscored the importance of Holocaust education worldwide. I had the opportunity to exchange views with the newly appointed UNESCO Special Envoy for Holocaust Education, Samuel Pisar and Hannah Rosenthal, US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.
I discussed the respective mandates of the ITF and UNESCO with Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. We agreed that our organizations can reinforce each other in the field of Holocaust education. UNESCO has an excellent network worldwide and the ITF has a pool of expertise and knowledge.
On February 3, I visited the International Tracing Service. Quite a number of Heads of Delegation of the ITF also have responsibilities for the ITS and together with the Head of the Netherlands Delegation, Marcel Floor, I visited their offices in Bad Arolsen, Germany.
It is both a depository of many archives and a tracing service, assisting people from all over the world to trace their relatives in the period of the Second World War. An impressive digitalization project is going on and efforts are being made to work on education and historical research. Ian Kershaw worked together with the ITS on his new book "The End."
We talked about the ITF and I saw a number of possibilities, for example in using ITS material for educational purposes. Not all member countries of the ITF make use (or may know) of the ITS archives, and academic researchers may possibly find a wealth of material on their country in Bad Arolsen. Highly recommended!
15 December 2011
To get in the right spirit for the Plenary I travelled to Vilnius to attend a book presentation of Professor Robert van Voren. The book Undigested Past; The Holocaust in Lithuania is a must-read to everyone who is interested in this history of Lithuania .
I had the opportunity to meet with Minister Arūnas Gelūnas in preparation for the book presentation and he impressed me with a clear vision on both the history and the future of Lithuania.
I also had a chance to discuss the upcoming Plenary with the Lithuanian Head of Delegation, Mrs. Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene, vice minister of Foreign Affairs.
ITF's Plenary session
The week of November 27 until December 1 was the most exhausting week of the year, but it appeared to be the most rewarding week also. This week was the second ITF conference in 2011. It all started off with the conference "The Holocaust and other Genocides; the Uses, Abuses and Misuses of the Holocaust Paradigm" at the Peace Palace in The Hague on November 27 and 28. This conference was not an ITF conference, but organised on the occasion of the Netherlands' Chairmanship of the ITF by the Dutch ITF Working Group delegates. In my opening speech I stressed that the theme of this conference is timely and that its relevance cannot be underestimated easily. The Holocaust and other genocides is - understandably - a thorny issue to many. I firmly believe that we should not evade from an open debate on this issue. It is a necessity to discuss the Holocaust in relation to other genocides in research, education and remembrance. The mandate of the ITF, however, is clear: we deal with the memory of the Shoah. But the Stockholm Declaration also points out that we have a responsibility to fight genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, antisemitism and xenophobia. I think we should stick to our mandate, but that does not mean that we should "isolate" the Holocaust from other genocides. To me the conference met my expectations; there were excellent presentations - sometimes provocative - and lively debates.
To a Chair an ITF conference is like a surging vortex. Despite the careful preparation and hard work of the conference organizers and the ITF Secretariat I was confronted with a whole range of unexpected developments that required some negotiations behind the scenes, consultations with Working Group Chairs and ad hoc decision making. Seeing all the people who became friends over the last year, meeting new people and saying goodbye to some, makes the ITF-meeting very intense.
As I have said on different occasions also in this blog, the strength of ITF is in its people, in individuals, who can make a difference.
I had to say goodbye to some of them during this session: Aviva Raz-Shechter , Guy Broc and Steve Feinberg are fine examples of people who served the ITF for many years
The ITF team of the Netherlands had spent considerable time preparing a good theme for the opening session: Old and New: how do you keep the ITF and its issues relevant?
The session was opened by the Netherlands' State Secretary of Health, Welfare and Sport, Mrs. Marlies Veldhuijzen van Zanten-Hyllner, and Leslie Baruch Brent and Micha Gelber, two Holocuast survivors. To underline the relevance of the ITF in linking generations we had asked two youngsters to tape a video impression of their visit to Auschwitz and Sobibor.
If I listened to what people said to me afterwards I conclude that we succeeded in getting the message across through the contributions of two survivors and two young people
Although I will be in office for another 3 months, the Plenary could be seen as the culmination of the Netherlands' Chairmanship of the ITF. The work of the last year should lead to a number of decisions by the Plenary that - in my view - are important for the future of the ITF. The idea behind all this was and is that the ITF remains relevant and "fit for purpose," as I said in my White Paper. We have to see whether this will indeed materialize, but the conditions have been created.
I am grateful to all Heads of Delegation, but also to the Working Group Chairs and all the other delegates that we were able to take some important steps. We agreed to the introduction of the Multi-Year Work Plan including its main priorities. After a number years of hard work by the Communication Working Group and many debates in the Plenary the ITF decided to change its name into the International Holocaust Remembrance Organisation (IHRO) as of March 6, 2012. On that date a new logo, designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, will be presented. Additionally, we agreed upon the introduction of a Country Reporting System to monitor the progress made by countries in implementing the Stockholm Declaration. Last but not least, I should mention that we welcomed three new member countries Ireland, Serbia and Slovenia.
Looking back, I believe that the Plenary in The Hague was a busy, albeit fruitful event.
The leisure time was rather limited. I hope that the visit to the Tribunal and the visit on the second night to the Portuguese synagogue with the exposé of Rabbi Soetendorp were good choices, and of course I would have wished that we had more time to show delegates more of what the Netherlands has to offer.
Strengthening relations with the Holy See and access to the Vatican archives for scientific research have been ITF priorities for many years. Together with Advisor to the ITF, Professor Steven Katz, I travelled to Rome for a meeting at the Vatican. I briefed my counterparts of the Holy See on the recent development in the ITF in general; and the decisions taken at the Plenary in particular.
I stressed that my visits to all member countries have reinforced my views of the importance of the involvement of the church in Holocaust remembrance and education.
Mgr. Balesteros, Undersecretary for Relations with States, informed me that an earlier visit in 2009 on the opening of the secret archives had given an extra push forward within the Vatican. I will write a report to the incoming Belgian Chairmanship, however a closer involvement of the Catholic Church with the work of the ITF might take some more time.
7 November 2011
With only a few weeks to go before the Plenary meetings in The Hague we - the Secretariat and the Chairmanship - are getting quite busy with the agenda and documents, but also with the logistics. Since we will be having a rather full agenda, I am setting up telephone conferences with - hopefully - all HOD and Working Group Chairs to inform them about the discussions and documents they can expect.
I had a long-standing commitment to Canadian NGOs and the government of Canada to visit Canada on the occasion of Holocaust Education Week for presentations, meetings and panel discussions. The Netherlands Embassy in Ottawa made a very interesting programme which allowed me to meet Canadian stakeholders about the ITF and the Canadian Chairmanship in 2013.
But on my way there I went to the UN in New York to speak about cooperation with other international organizations that are working in the field of Holocaust remembrance. At the UN headquarters in New York I spoke to Mr. Ed Luck, special adviser on the Responsibility to Protect. While Mr. Luck's mandate does not cover the Holocaust directly, we spent some time informing each other about the respective activities and concluded that particularly on the education side there are definitely possibilities for cooperation. Together with Mr. Francis Deng, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Luck implements training projects on genocide prevention in many countries.
With Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General of the UN, and Kimberly Mann of the UN Holocaust Remembrance Unit (and ITF delegate) I discussed closer cooperation between the UN and the ITF. Over the last few years we have worked closely together on a number of concrete projects and I consider this as a good example of how international organizations can make use of each other and how they should work together. The ITF has the expertise on Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and the UN has a network of many offices with a mandate in communication and public information. USG Akasaka and I reiterated that we should continue working together and he invited me to participate in New York in January 27, 2012 on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
As a former Netherlands' Ambassador to Canada, I'm quite familiar with the Canadian Government, NGOs and Canadian culture. I was looking forward to meet old friends and to discuss the ITF with Canadian stakeholders.
The whole programme included students, schoolchildren, the Military College, lawyers, and the general public. As I experienced in the last year there is great interest in the broad spectrum of issues related to the Holocaust: from antisemitism to questions on how we can keep the memory of the Holocaust alive and relevant with the last of the survivors slowly passing away.
The discussion with professors and students of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University on the relevance of Holocaust Education in countries that are seeking more democracy today was as lively as the title suggests: a very knowledgeable audience but not everybody was aware of what the ITF is and does.
Together with Mark Weitzman I participated in a panel discussion on the threat of Holocaust denial and antisemitism organized by the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. Mark gave an impressive overview of denial and antisemitism on the Internet and I presented the ITF in general and its activities to counter Holocaust denial and antisemitism in particular.
My discussions in Ottawa with the Government and the upcoming chairmanship of Canada also included a preview of the discussions in the next Plenary. I received commitment on the introduction of the proposed Multi-Year Work Plan.
After a meeting with the children (10-14 years) of the Chabad Sunday School, where I got - as expected - surprising questions, I participated in a panel discussion at the Canadian War Museum on the future of Holocaust remembrance with Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Minister of Justice, human rights expert, and MP, Deirdre Butler, a professor specialized in Holocaust education, and Ada Wynston, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. After the introductions the panel was overwhelmed with questions, both on questions releated to education in Canada and general concerns on Holocaust and its relevance today.
As many already know, one of my priorities is to look for possibilities to bring Holocaust education to specific target groups such as professionals, civil servants, journalists, police officers and the military. On my way from Ottawa to Toronto I visited the Royal Military College in Kingston to present the ITF and the importance of Holocaust education and remembrance to military cadets. Canada is very much involved in matters like Responsibility to Protect and has been active in preventing and stopping genocides in many parts of the world ( Roméo Dallaire's books on his experience in Rwanda is very well know in Canada). I concentrated on the importance and relevance of learning about the facts and context of the Holocaust in order to prevent today's atrocities.
To finalize my tour around the Canadian education system, I talked to the 10th graders at the Toronto North Collegiate Institute. One of the students of this high school, Max, held a moving presentation about his visit to Auschwitz and his March of the Living in remembrance of his grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor. The approximately 300 10th graders will be doing a course in Canadian history, World War II and the Holocaust shortly. I am convinced that Max and I have managed to prepare them for the importance of Holocaust education and remembrance.
The Holocaust education week in Toronto is a major event and is a best practice for many ITF member countries. If you ever need inspiration on how to organize such a week of events take a look at the programme and download it here: http://www.holocaustcentre.com/Programs/Holocaust-Education-Week-2011.
The kickoff event was attended by 1000 people, including Guy Broc (ITF Head of Delegation of France) and Colin Boyd (ITF Head of Delegation of Canada). On behalf of the ITF I delivered official greetings to the 2011 Holocaust Education Week. The keynote speaker at this event was Deborah E. Lipstadt, who gave an excellent lecture about the Eichmann trial.
Last but not least I attended the fall meeting of the Canadian National Holocaust Task Force. The National Task Force provides input to the Canadian ITF delegation and seems an excellent platform to implement the Stockholm Declaration in Canada. It was a great opportunity to inform the members about my activities as ITF Chair and the agenda of the Plenary.
Back in The Netherlands I will concentrate on the preparations for the upcoming meetings and will meet ambassadors of ITF countries this week to brief them on the Plenary.
13 October 2011
The last weeks before the Plenary are full with conference calls with the Executive Secretary, Heads of Delegation and a number of visits. One that I have been looking forward to was my visit to Ukraine early October.
On October 3, I attended with the Executive Secretary the commemoration event of Babi Yar in Kiev, Ukraine. 70 years ago almost 34,000 Jews were murdered and thrown in a small gully close to the city center of Kiev. I was deeply moved by the respectful, impressive way that the Babi Yar mass murder is commemorated in Kiev. It was also a reassurance of the importance and the relevance of commemorating the Holocaust and educating our youngsters about it.
For many years, there was hardly any attention on the Holocaust in general and Babi Yar in particular in Ukraine, despite the famous poem of Jevtoesjenko and Shostakovitch' 13th symphony. Until independence it was difficult for Ukraine to start a process with the aim to cope with its own history. Such a process was blocked in many countries of the former Soviet Union. Fortunately this has changed. The start of the construction of a Babi Yar museum illustrates this.
During this ceremony, which also was attended by my US colleague Douglas Davidson, the Government of Israel was present with 4 representatives, a gesture greatly appreciated by the Ukrainian Jewish community.
Together with the Israeli Minister Eidelman I gave a speech at the first ever Conference of Ukrainian Graduates of the Yad Vashem course. It was an example of how ITF and Ukraine are already working together. At the meeting I experienced again how important the role of individuals is in the ITF. A very strong Ukrainian organizer with just as motivated teachers is an ideal combination in this field. Many compliments to both sides.
A closer involvement of Ukraine in the work of the ITF will be beneficial to both parties. My talks with the Jewish community and the government of Ukraine have convinced me that the cooperation with the ITF will be intensified in the years to come. There is a genuine interest in ITF's activities. I have invited the Minister of Foreign Affairs as my personal guest to the Plenary and I will visit the country again early 2012 to continue my talks on this issue.
After visiting Ukraine I travelled to Belgrade to discuss Serbia's application for full membership with Deputy Prime Minister Djelic, Minister of Labor and Social Policy Ljalic, and the whole Serbian ITF delegation. My interlocutors shared my view that full membership is not a goal in itself, but a step in a process towards the implementation of the Stockholm Declaration. From that perspective we discussed a number of steps Serbia could take.
I was impressed with my discussion with the ITF delegation: motivated, with lots of ideas and ready to participate fully in all the discussions of the Working Groups and Plenary. I also noticed that the remarks that have been made by member countries on the baseline study were received with a very positive attitude.
In the evening we had a working dinner at the Netherlands Ambassador's residence with many relevant participants. To say that the discussion was lively would be an understatement! All the issues of the ITF are alive and the participants were not shy to share their views with me and amongst themselves.
As in most "new" ITF member countries, the Holocaust is living history in Serbia. The turbulent 20th century history of Serbia has had its impact on diverging views on past and present. Diverging views on the past and present are not always easy to cope with. I believe that there is an important role for the ITF to assist countries in coping with its own history and reconciliation, a process that all of us have to get through.
With less than 7 weeks to go until our Plenary in The Hague, the pressure is increasing. Apart from logistical and organizational aspects of the conference and Plenary, most of my time goes into the preparations of the agenda of the Plenary. Many delegates might have noticed and contributed to the discussions on, for example, the Multi-Year Work Plan. I can assure you that in the coming weeks many communications will follow.
15 September 2011
At the invitation of OSCE/ODIHR I visited Krakow on the 1st of August to attend and participate in a workshop on Roma and Sinti and the Holocaust. I was joined by Karen Polak, the Head of the Working Group of the ITF dealing with the subject. It was a "full house" that had assembled and discussed the various aspects of the plight of the Roma and Sinti in the Second World War. Many young people attended and the Chair of the ITF got quite a number of questions during one of the workshops.
The next day I attended the remembrance service at Auschwitz together with my colleague Douglas Davidson, US Head of Delegation, who was one of the speakers.
Impressive is the best description of the event and for me personally, I thought it was important (and appreciated) that the ITF was there.
The second half of my chairmanship started off with a conference call on the Terms of Reference of the Country Reporting Mechanism on September 1. Last year in Haifa the Plenary decided to introduce such a mechanism with the aim of sharing best practices and to contribute to member countries' efforts to promote the Stockholm Declaration. I support this initiative wholeheartedly because it underlines the notion that full membership in the ITF is not a final goal, but a continuous endeavor to implement the Stockholm Declaration. It is important that member countries have the opportunity to report every now and then on the progress they have made, their successes, and their challenges. I would like to stress that this mechanism should not become a huge (administrative) burden to governments in terms of manpower and money. In the conference call I asked the countries that initiated this system to comment on the draft Terms of Reference. Based on the discussion I am confident that I have now enough inputs to allow me to table a proposal at the Plenary in December so that we can then start with the first round of Country Reporting next year.
Probably the most important element of my White Paper is the multi-year work plan. In my view the work plan is an instrument to structure the activities of the ITF bodies and to set priorities. It can also be beneficial in communicating the work of the ITF to the outside world. It goes without saying that the Working Groups are pivotal in the preparatory stage and the implementation of the Work Plan. Therefore I had asked the Working Groups for input and convened a one-day meeting with the Chairs of the Working Groups in Berlin on September 5. It is a real challenge to identify issues that are appealing to all ITF Working Groups and delegates, are highly relevant to experts as well as diplomats, and have an impact on the outside world. I do not think this blog is the right place to introduce ITF's priorities for the next 3 years, but I can assure you that we have made good progress. The next few weeks Working Groups steering committees are going to draft outlines for the identified priorities. I would like to call upon all Working Group delegates to contribute to the drafting and implementation of the future ITF multi-year Work Plan.
From Berlin I flew to Ljubljana to discuss the Slovenian application for full membership in the ITF. In previous blogs I mentioned that many countries "translate" ITF's mandate to local circumstances. Slovenia is no exception to this. In order to put Slovenians application into a historical perspective I visited the Slovenian Museum of Contemporary History. It is an interesting museum about a country which experienced a turbulent 20th century.
Two things struck me: as in so many countries that I have visited before, a young, energetic director is heading the museum and constantly thinking about how to improve the museum and keep it interesting for the visitors.
Secondly: all (recent) histories of countries are special and that is certainly also true for Slovenia with a complicated war history, which is of course reflected in the collection and composition of the museum. The museum is a starting point for a discussion about the history of Slovenia.
I was quite surprised to hear that during World War II Ljubljana was fenced around with barbed wire to prevent people leaving or entering the city. Today the barbed wire has been replaced by a 38-kilometer bicycle path. As a Dutchman I could not leave Ljubljana without cycling a part of this historic track.
The next day I had interesting discussions with the minister of Education, Mr. Igor Lukšič, the minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Samuel Žbogar, Ms Sonja Kralj Bervar, Director-General for Cultural Development and International Affairs at the Ministry of Culture, and the Slovenian Head of Delegation, Ms. Eva Tomic. The emphasis in all meetings was on the commitment of the Slovenian Government to join the ITF as full member; not as a final destination, but as a next step in a continuous process to implement the Stockholm Declaration. Therefore, we discussed some ideas for projects in education and remembrance that could implemented in the years to come. I hope we can welcome Slovenia as a new member country on December 1 in The Hague.
4 July 2011
A week has passed since the first ITF conference under the Netherlands Chairmanship. We were lucky with the weather and Amsterdam is always a beautiful city to visit.
I look back at a successful conference and I wish to thank all of you, Heads of Delegation, Chairs of the Working Groups, and all Working Group members for your support, dedication and hard work.
My visits to all Working Groups provided a great opportunity to elaborate on my White Paper and to hear the views, wishes and concerns of the delegates. The discussions underlined my conclusion that more coherence in the ITF between Working Groups and Working Groups and the Plenary is a necessity if we want to give the ITF an extra boost in implementing the Stockholm Declaration.
My talks with permanent observers, like the Council of Europe, the UN, the Claims Conference and ESLI, were helpful in finding areas for cooperation and collaboration. I intend to have separate meetings with many permanent observers in the months to come.
At the meetings with Liaison Countries I was struck by the seriousness by which all countries prepare themselves for membership of the ITF. The important thing about the road to full membership is clearly the boost in Holocaust education, research and remembrance. This is, in my view, an achievement in itself.
The informal briefing for Heads of Delegation on Wednesday afternoon and the SIWG on Thursday were the "litmus test" for the Chair. How would the SIWG receive the analysis and proposals in my White Paper? I was happy to see that all delegations took the floor to express their views. As a consequence we had an interesting and stimulating debate about the relevance and the future of the ITF. The SIWG gave me the mandate to - taking into account all the comments and suggestions made - turn the ideas in the White Paper into concrete proposals to be tabled at the Plenary in December.
Now, after a bit of a break, it will be time for me to translate the White Paper but also to work on a number of issues that we discussed. The first challenge that I see is the multi-year work plan and I know I will get the full support of the Chairs of the Working Groups.
Fortunately there was some room left for socializing and sightseeing last week. Some of you faced the rainy weather on Sunday and visited some memorial sites in the Netherlands. Luckily, the weather was perfect for the canal cruise on Tuesday evening. Last but not least, the reception in the Jewish Historical Museum and the concert provided the opportunity to meet representatives of many Dutch organizations. We have put some photographs from the meetings below.
I wish you all a great summer (and a great winter for our Argentinean colleagues) and I'm looking forward to meeting with you in The Hague in late November.
16 May 2011
After a short Easter break I resumed my tour to all member countries, and I started the preparation of the SIWG/PPC meeting next month.
Last week I went through all the issues related to the organization of the SIWG/PPC with the Executive Secretary in Amsterdam. There were still a couple of loose ends to deal with and we divided the work between the Secretariat and us, the Netherlands organizers. Among other things, we discussed communications to the Heads of Delegation and the Working Groups and how we could improve our cooperation with other internal organisations. We also discussed the issues related to the White Paper as well as how to approach a number of issues that require decisions in December: Academic Advisor, logo, review mechanism, etc. Later that day we visited the conference venue: the Berlage Building in the heart of Amsterdam, and we will make the last operational preparations for the upcoming meetings.
Straight from the Berlage Building I travelled to Spain to continue my visits to member countries. Like in all other countries the Spanish Government, together with the Netherlands Embassy, had prepared a very busy day in which we went through all the elements of the White Paper with the Head of Delegation together with the full Spanish delegation. Spain has an excellent ITF committee that meets regularly. It consists of dedicated officials of the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, and Casa Sefarad-Israel. I believe that Spain has accomplished a lot over the last few years which could be of interest to other ITF member countries.
Later that day we met with 12 representatives of various organizations in Spain which deal with matters related to the ITF, including the federation of Jewish communities, the institute for culture of the Spanish Roma, and Amical Mauthausen, representing Spanish (non-Jewish) deportees. My earlier observation of how countries "translate" the mandate of the ITF to local circumstances and to their own history also holds true for Spain. Spain was not directly involved in World War II, but the Civil War of the 1930s and the decades of dictatorship that followed have left their marks in Spanish society. I discussed with the group for 2 hours and I saw and heard very committed people, who raised questions about visibility, the role of education, and the roles of government versus private organizations. I'm glad to conclude that the ITF is very much alive in Spain.
From Madrid I traveled to Rome and spent the morning familiarizing myself with the Vatican. Thanks to the work of the Dutch ambassador I was able to speak to a number of people who have a great insight into the various subjects, and more specifically in the best way how to approach the issue of the Vatican archives.
The archives were - understandably - also prominent in our discussions with the Italian Head of Delegation and his group, with whom I met in the afternoon. The delegation described the progress made on education and remembrance in the last years. Naturally we discussed the content of the White Paper and I listened to some of the issues that Italy brought forward. In education and remembrance the cooperation between member states is highly appreciated by the Italians and could even be intensified. One of the Italian achievements is the establishment of a masters course in Holocaust studies in which international renowned professors participate. In this respect we discussed the changes of setting up a (European) network of universities with master courses in Holocaust studies. This idea should be explored further. The Italian delegation reminded me that next year (April 11) it will be the 25th anniversary of the death of Primo Levi. Perhaps it is appropriate for the ITF to pay some attention to this date.
The last country I visited was Greece. We discussed with the Head of Delegation the issues of the White Paper extensively, and by and large Greece shares the views in the White Paper, such as more efficient and fewer meetings, more cohesion and integration of the work of the Working Groups and the Plenary. On a more strategic level we discussed how Greece could benefit from other countries' experiences and on how ITF objectives could be accomplished on a national level. It was suggested to establish a national committee with members of the Ministry of Education and Culture to get more awareness and commitment from all parts of the Government. We also paid a visit to the Jewish Museum in Athens, a real education museum. Thanks to the very committed and active director Zanet Battinou (member of the MMWG), the museum plays a very special role in educating the Greek youth in the (long) history of the Jewish population in general and the Holocaust in particular.
Over the last weeks several countries have indicated their wish to speak with me about ITF membership, among them Turkey. I received Ambassador Tezgor in The Hague. It was our first meeting and the Ambassador explained to me the wish of the Government of Turkey to intensify its relations with the ITF, which would lead to its full membership. Together with Marcel Floor, Head of the Netherlands Delegation, we gave him a short briefing on the present situation of the ITF, including the ideas of the Netherlands Chairmanship. All relevant issues were discussed and we agreed that we would continue our discussion in Ankara later this year, in order for me to brief the Plenary meeting at the end of 2011.
14 April 2011
A fortnight ago at the Secretariat in Berlin I had a one-day meeting with the current and former Chairs of the Working Groups of the ITF. In March I already had a conversation with the Communications Working Group about strategies to increase the visibility of the ITF. The main objective of the discussions with the Chairs of the Working Groups was to get them more closely involved with the Chairmanship. Their views on the future of the ITF in general and my White Paper in particular are important. Additionally we discussed ways to improve the relationship between the WG's and the Plenary. We had a very good and intensive discussion and I am convinced that the expertise and commitment of the Chairs will contribute tremendously to the success of the ITF. I am looking forward to hear from the Chairs after they have consulted with their Working Group members. The Secretariat has drafted a report of the meeting.
At the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland I attended the Regional Forum on the prevention of genocide in Bern. Since this was - after meetings in Argentina and Tanzania - a European Forum, many European countries and international organizations attended. I was asked to preside over the session dealing with the role of countries (next to the role of NGOs and international organizations) in genocide prevention. The added value of the Forum is that it creates a link between academics, experts and the day to day practice of top civil servants and international organizations. It became clear to me that there is room for closer collaboration between the Forum and the ITF. I think it is worthwhile to explore this further and I will report on this later in the year.
The Forum in Bern was followed by a one-day trip to Zagreb, Croatia. Together with the Head of Delegation of Croatia, Mrs. Paravic, I visited Jasenovac, the site of a concentration camp where so many Serbs, Jews and Roma perished in the war. It was an impressive site, right on the border with present day Bosnia. Again - like in so many countries I have visited - you can see and feel the history of the Holocaust linked with more recent histories. Over lunch at the Jasenovac museum we had a long discussion with the Croatian delegation about their views and ideas on and expectations of the ITF. Croatia is proud of the steps they have made in education and training in cooperation with ITF partners. We exchanged some views on ways to translate ITF's objectives to the national level. In the afternoon, as was the case during my visits to many other ITF member states, I visited NGOs and the Jewish community. Although the Jewish population in Croatia is quite small there are two vibrant Jewish communities. Currently, Croatia is the only ITF member in this European region, but several countries have expressed interest in joining, so I am sure I will be back in this part of Europe later this year.
I'm preparing myself for the last round of visits to ITF countries. I will be visiting Spain, Italy and Greece in the beginning of May.
25 March 2011
After taking office on March 8 in Berlin, I travelled to Buenos Aires to meet the Argentinean ITF colleagues there.
As in most of the other countries I visited, I met with the Head of Delegation, other delegates, experts, and - in this case - also with the Jewish community.
The Argentinean Government takes the implementation of its ITF membership very seriously. My colleague Ambassador Dorosetz, Head of Delegation, convenes meetings of the ITF delegation every month. Some years ago, the Minister of Education introduced a new curriculum on Holocaust education. The subject of the Holocaust is alive in Argentina and that was clear in all my discussions.
What I noticed here, as well as in many other countries, is that a country's recent history plays an important role in how one perceives the role of the ITF. In Argentina the military dictatorship of the seventies was mentioned regularly and the work of the ITF functions as an "opening" in discussions on their national history. The project with young military cadets implemented by the Anne Frank House in Buenos Aires is illustrative of this.
Notwithstanding the dedication of the Argentineans, a number of challenges remain, like the implementation of the government's education policy and the efforts to counter antisemitism. The briefing from the ITF Ambassador convinced me that Argentina sets an example in taking the membership of the ITF seriously.
Understandingly, it was too early for Argentinean comments on my White Paper. However, Deputy Minister d 'Alotto - whom I met in the afternoon - was very pleased that the White Paper included the Review Proposals that the Argentine delegation (among others) had proposed in Haifa.
Last week, I contacted a number of international organizations to inform them about my intention to improve and intensify cooperation with partner organizations. I have invited them for an exchange of views in June in Amsterdam. To facilitate this discussion the PO will make an inventory of the activities and areas of the organizations that are closely related to the ITF. To this end I have asked the international organizations to provide some input for this inventory.