UNESCO, UN and International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day to counter denial and distortion

Paris: During the storming of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, a man was photographed wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase ‘Camp Auschwitz’ above an image of a skull and crossbones; videos circulated on social media showing an Israeli journalist being attacked by another insurrectionist with antisemitic slurs. Remembering accurately and teaching about the Holocaust is a vital tool to counter this ancient hatred.

Antisemitism, including the denial and distortion of the facts of the Holocaust, is rising across the world with devastating consequences for individuals, communities and democracies. Education plays a crucial role in combatting it: “By transmitting the history of this event, we uphold the principles of justice by refusing the hateful logic of National Socialism, and by challenging those who deny the Holocaust or relativize the crimes committed against Jews and other persecuted groups, because they seek to perpetuate the racism and antisemitism that caused the genocide”, UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Director-General Azoulay, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pay tribute to the victims of Nazi persecution in an online ceremony held from 17.00 to 18.00 CET. The event is followed by an online panel discussion on Holocaust denial and distortion from 18.00 to 19.00 CET, featuring historian Deborah Lipstadt, a leader in the fight against Holocaust denial, Philippe Sands, best-selling author and lawyer, Hella Pick, journalist and Kindertransport survivor, Marian Turski, President of the Jewish Historical Institute Association and Vice-President of the International Auschwitz Committee, and Robert Williams, the Chair of the IHRA Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Both events will be streamed on UN Web TV and via UNESCO’s social media channels. A Save the Date will be sent later this week with a link to the event.

The challenge in our times is monumental: 63 per cent of young Americans do not know how many died in the Holocaust; 47 per cent of Germans surveyed in 2020 responded that Germany was ‘not particularly guilty’.

Holocaust denial and distortion are symptoms of increasing disinformation, hate speech and prejudice worldwide. A Swedish report showed that 35 percent of social media posts referencing Jews included antisemitic stereotypes and hostile statements. The Coronavirus Pandemic has accelerated this trend and has heralded an explosion of antisemitic conspiracy theories on social media platforms, many of which draw their inspiration from historic antisemitic tropes. Protests against Coronavirus restrictions in many European countries were reported to be permeated with far right and antisemitic rhetoric.

The commemoration is held jointly by UNESCO, the United Nations and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), currently under the German presidency. The event is supported and partially produced by CNN International.


Other Activities

Later this week, UNESCO, the United Nations, IHRA and the European Commission also launch the communications campaign #ProtectTheFacts, which will raise awareness and educate about the dangers of Holocaust denial and distortion.

In Paris, UNESCO also hosts photographer Luigi Toscano’s exhibition ‘Lest We Forget’ displaying the portraits of more than 200 survivors of Nazi persecution outside UNESCO Headquarters from 18 January to 12 February. The exhibition has the support of the Permanent Delegations of Austria, France, Germany and the European Union to UNESCO and the World Jewish Congress. An online inauguration will be held on 25 January at 16.00 CET. European Cultural Institutes in Paris will hold a series of events and film screenings to mark the International Day.

Working alongside the United Nations Outreach Programme on the Holocaust, UNESCO is the only UN agency with a mandate to promote Holocaust education and the prevention of genocide. UNESCO’s activities in the context of the International Day are supported by the Permanent Delegations of Austria and Monaco to UNESCO.