“Our commitment must be to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity's common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
Ambassador Karel de Beer, ITF Chair, has started a new blog to share the work and activities of the Chairmanship. To read his third post, please click below.
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 masters 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.