Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Reading the ‘Protocols’ in Athens

This article orginally appeared in The Times of Israel

by Dr. Robert Rozett

The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” were authored by the Czarist secret police during the last years of the 19th century, primarily to support the Russian regime’s virulently anti-Semitic policies. They are purported to be the minutes of a secret meeting between Jewish leaders who discussed their attempt to take over the world. Especially during the period straddling World War I, the “Protocols” began to spread far and wide, and in 1920 were even notoriously published by the American industrialist Henry Ford and were front-page news in The Times of London. Several months after they first appeared in The Times, that newspaper declared them to be a forgery. In two court cases in the middle of the 1930s, the “Protocols” were also declared to be a forgery. Nevertheless, around the world, millions believed every word, and the idea that “the Jews” are out to take over the world became and remains a staple of anti-Semitic discourse.

During the Nazi era, the ideas contained in the “Protocols,” now married to the fallacious notion that the Jewish “race” is implicitly dangerous for mankind, were routinely invoked in official anti-Semitic rhetoric and in myriad informal forums. Most historians would concur that the “Protocols” comprise a considerable factor in the thinking that brought Hitler and his partners to persecute the Jews and to their policy of mass systematic murder. There also is no doubt that for a great many people a belief in the veracity of the “Protocols,” to say the least, dampened any nascent impulses to oppose the unfolding Holocaust.

After the facts of the Shoah were brought to light, one would think that a screed like the “Protocols” would have been debunked forever. Yet, it was not. The extreme right continued and continues to espouse the “Protocols,” and in the Muslim and Arab world they are at the core of anti-Semitic discourse. Major television series aired in recent years in Egypt (“Horseman without a Horse”) and Syria, Lebanon and Iran (“Al-Shatat” — The Diaspora­) were firmly rooted in the “Protocols.” One can find support for the veracity of the “Protocols” on innumerable websites, blogs and discussion groups in a plethora of languages, and their presence on the web is ubiquitous. It is easy to obtain a copy either over the Internet or in many bookstores around the world.

Despite all of this, many people still consider expressions of belief in the truth of the “Protocols” to exist only on the margins of society. For a long time now this has not been the case, and the reading of a segment of the “Protocols” in a duly elected parliament in a member state of the EU must be taken as a new low. It is not that such a reading will automatically or necessarily result in a new Holocaust, and it would be much too facile to draw a direct line between the two. Nonetheless, the reading of the “Protocols” in the parliament is a highly symbolic act. It clearly demonstrates that the politics of hatred is not only alive and well, but is much too near the mainstream. Real and practical steps must be taken to prevent this kind of politics from gaining even more support, or actually gaining a hold on power. Public pronouncements, the media, laws, and most fundamentally, education, must all be harnessed to the effort to push the kind of hatred represented by the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” back to the margins and then stamp it out altogether.

Dr Robert Rozett is the Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, author of 'Approaching the Holocaust, Texts and Contexts' (Vallentine Mitchell, 2005), and 'Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front,' soon be published by Yad Vashem and University of Nebraska Press

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Yad Vashem and the Anne Frank House Strengthen Ties

by Richelle Budd Caplan, Director, European Department,
International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem
In essence, Anne Frank wrote a “blog” 70 years ago. I have often wondered whether Anne would have won the Pulitzer Prize had she not died in Bergen Belsen?
Anne Frank was one of the 1.5 million Jewish children who died during the Shoah simply because she was Jewish. In hiding in Amsterdam, Anne noted in her diary that she wanted to become a journalist. She was a teenager who had aspirations – similar to those of Moshe Flinker who while in hiding in Brussels noted in his diary that he wished to become a statesman. Anne shared the hope to dream along with Abraham Kopolovitz who was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1930. During the Shoah, Abraham was imprisoned in the Lodz Ghetto. Abraham also left a notebook that was found after his death.
Anne’s personal story has resonated with readers from all over the globe, especially young people, since her diary was originally published more than 60 years ago. Her words have touched many hearts and minds and she ultimately may be perceived as an icon. Approximately 1.2 million people annually visit the place where Anne spent approximately two years in hiding – 85% of them from outside of the Netherlands.
This week, Yad Vashem signed a first-ever cooperation agreement in the field of education with the Anne Frank House, expanding professional development opportunities for Dutch educators to study this difficult and complex subject matter. During our discussions with the Executive Director of the Anne Frank House, Ronald Leopold, it was clear that both of our institutions share a deep commitment to transmitting to educators and their students the importance of teaching about the Jewish victims’ pre-war experiences, their everyday life struggles during the Holocaust and the dilemmas that Holocaust survivors – such as Otto Frank - faced after they were “liberated.” It is thereby hoped that Yad Vashem and the Anne Frank House will now work more closely together to support teachers who wish to learn more about the Holocaust.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Teaching the Holocaust: the power of personal stories

During the month of October over 150 educators from countries as diverse as China, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, participated in seminars at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. While here, they met with Holocaust survivors, historians and leading educators, and had extensive tours of the Museums and resources at Yad Vashem. Many educators face challenges of all kinds in teaching the Holocaust. At the School, they have the opportunity to discuss these challenges with colleagues and experts. Here are some reflections by one of the participants, an educator from the Uk, who writes in The Guardian:

Teaching the Holocaust: the power of personal stories

History teacher Lisa Reid explains how meeting Holocaust survivors took her teaching to a different level

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Going Green on the Mount of Remembrance

By Yifat Bachrach-Ron

The Yad Vashem campus extends over 45 acres of forest and groves upon the hills of Jerusalem. Some 15 acres are irrigated flower gardens and trees – most of them planted in honor of the Righteous Among the Nations. 

Through the initiative of Gadi Giladi, Director of the Maintenance Department at Yad Vashem, the flowers and trees now receive water discharged by the air conditioning system of the Museum Complex. This green-minded system, built by maintenance professionals, recycles 15,000 cubic meters of water from the air conditioning network every year. "Today, about a third of the manicured grounds at Yad Vashem are irrigated with recycled water," says Giladi. "In addition to the supreme importance of preserving water, this saves Yad Vashem some NIS 180,000 a year."

The Museum Complex, which includes the Holocaust History Museum, Holocaust Art Museum, Synagogue and Exhibitions Pavilion, is climate-controlled 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by an advanced cooling system that maintains constant temperature and humidity levels inside the museum halls throughout the year.  The necessity of this is clearly dictated by the unique nature of the exhibits – personal effects, documents and artworks dating back to the Holocaust period. The temperature inside the museums is constant, regardless of the weather outside. This calls for a special air conditioning system, utilizing and discharging sizeable amounts of water. In the past, this water was simply wasted. 

One of the most important processes which enabled Yad Vashem to recycle its cooling system water was the removal of lime scale, rendering water fit for irrigation. The process was closely supervised by agronomists and chemists, and helped achieve the necessary water quality. 

At the heart of the new system are eight large tanks that collect water from the air-conditioning network and channel it toward the irrigation system. In an added measure of forward-thinking, the tanks double as water reserves for fire emergencies.