“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
Ambassador Karel de Beer, ITF Chair, writes a blog to share the work and activities of the Chairmanship. To read his newest post, please click below.
8 February 2011
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!