"Remembrance Must Be Upheld Enduringly"
Kathrin Meyer (44) is in charge of the Permanent Office of the "Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance und Research" (ITF). This office of the international organisation, which sponsors projects in remembrance of the Shoa, has now been opened in Berlin. A symbolic act, feels the historian, who previously worked for the OSCE and was responsible for the field of anti-Semitism there.
(© wernermedia/Arkady Shafirov)
Ms Meyer, the ITF was founded exactly ten years ago. Its work was organised from varying locations. Now the Permanent Office in Berlin has been opened. Berlin now coordinates the Holocaust remembrance of the member countries, of which there are currently 25. What does this decision signalise?
Kathrin Meyer: Germany – as well as other member countries – offered to set up the Permanent Office in Berlin. There is no doubt that this happened because of a political and moral obligation. The ITF’s decision in favour of Germany signalises that the process of coming to terms with the National Socialist era and remembering the Holocaust can be trusted here.
Doesn’t being in Berlin also mean a location advantage? There are many remembrance institutions here. For instance in the neighbouring office to you there is the NS documentation centre "Topography of Terror".
Of course members expect that the organisation and its work will be supported well from Berlin. The experts and organisations are here. Think of the Jewish Museum, the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe or the House of the Wannsee Conference. Important decisions about the Holocaust were made here. After all there is a geographical closeness to the sites of destruction.
There are critics who speak of "remembrance inflation". At the same time Avner Shalev, director of Yad Vashem, warns of a "Holocaust fatigue". Do you agree?
Unfortunately the Holocaust debate keeps being suspended. That’s fatal. For that reason it’s very important to me personally – and of course that’s also the aim of the "Task Force" with its support for global research, remembrance and education projects – to work on how we can uphold remembrance of the suffering of NS victims enduringly.
Are there not already plenty of institutions for enduring remembrance?
Yes, of course. But as far as I know the ITF is unique in its capacity within an internationally networked remembrance culture. But the relevance of this can after all be gauged by the fact that the organisation has grown in recent years to 25 member states, with others who would like to join.
Why is there currently a focus on Eastern Europe in your projects?
The "Task Force" was initiated in 1998 by the then Swedish Prime Minister Göran Perrson, to entrench Shoa remembrance in a political context at a global level. The background at that time was that awareness of the Shoa was declining rapidly – even here in Europe. Now we mainly sponsor projects in Eastern Europe – but there were also applications from China and Rwanda – because in these regions Holocaust remembrance is neither supported nor funded adequately. For this reason we help the initiatives that exist there. It’s paradoxical: although the Jewish population in Belarus or the Ukraine was murdered by the SS, the sites and the subject of the Holocaust are in some places largely unknown, and a remembrance culture is submerged as it were, or only just starting up as is the case in many ITF countries, for instance in Croatia or the Baltic countries.
Are there controversies amongst the delegates of the member countries with regard to the direction of remembrance projects when decisions are made about funding twice a year?
Of course there are debates. But it has also been decided that the majority of education-related projects will be funded at the moment. Teacher training is particularly important to the ITF, because in many countries the Holocaust is not part of the curriculum. In this respect we are active in developing joint projects between groups of teachers. For instance a Ukrainian group was able to visit Yad Vashem or there was an exchange with Polish teachers who looked round the House of the Wannsee Conference and the Dachau concentration camp memorial site. The second most important aspect is academic research and supporting remembrance initiatives.
In the ITF’s founding declaration it states, "the Holocaust must be forever seared in our collective memory". It goes on to say, "humanity shares a responsibility to fight genocide, racism and anti-Semitism today". Is the "Task Force" also a point of contact for projects that handle current racist issues?
No. The ITF focuses its work on projects that are concerned with the Holocaust. Expanding would also go beyond the scope of the existing funds and structure. But that doesn’t mean that day-to-day racism and anti-Semitism remains hidden. In this context the Polish ITF president of the time submitted a declaration in relation to Darfur. Members also expressed opinions on Holocaust denial at the Iran conference. We take up a position, but we keep to our own guidelines when it comes to the content of our work.