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Understanding Holocaust distortion


Number of participants: 5–30 people
Duration: 90 minutes

Description of the activity:

  1. The trainer invites the participants to watch the following 12-minute explanatory video of Holocaust distortion.
  2. While watching the video, the participants should write down what they find (a) surprising, (b) interesting, (c) relevant, (d) what they did not understand or (e) what needs further clarifications, etc. If needed, a template with these questions can be offered to the participants to write down their thoughts.
What do you find
difficult to understand
  1. The trainer moderates a discussion on the video, by inviting the participants to share their reflections and comments. At this point, the aim is to gather a few impressions, not to enter into a complex discussion. If the participants bring up complex aspects, they are assured that these will be addressed throughout the training in various activities
  2. The participants are asked to share – if they remember – how the distinction between Holocaust denial and distortion was explained in the video. Afterwards, the trainer shows the table below, connecting it with the participants’ reflections.
Holocaust denial seeks to erase the history

of the Holocaust by claiming that the Holocaust did not take place or by calling into doubt the principal mechanisms of destruction or the intentionality of the genocide of Jewish people.

Holocaust distortion acknowledges certain aspects of the Holocaust as factual, but excuses, minimizes, glorifies or celebrates the

Holocaust as a positive historical event, and trivializes or misrepresents the Holocaust in a variety of ways and through various media.
Holocaust distortion can be more difficult to understand and identify because it requires deeper knowledge and critical understanding of the Holocaust, of antisemitism and of present-day contexts.
  1. The trainer informs the participants that they are going to see a very short excerpt from the testimony of a Holocaust survivor. The trainer can choose one of the two 2-minute videos below or another short video in which a survivor or a descendant of a survivor speaks about the way in which they are impacted by Holocaust denial/distortion.Excerpt from Lajos Cséri’s testimony

    Excerpt from Paula Burger’s testimony

Whenever playing videos of Holocaust survivors, it is important to give participants a short biography of the person, even if (or especially if) the video covers only a small part of the testimony. This serves both to remember and honor the survivor and to provide some information about their life, in order to avoid using testimonies without proper contextualization. Here are short biographies that can be shared about the speakers:

Lajos Cséri (1928–2020) was born in Hajdúböszörmény, Hungary under the name Lajos Klein. At 16 he was forced to move into the town’s ghetto and then deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. From there he was taken to several other camps: Dachau, Kaufering and München-Allach. In 1945, after München-Allach was liberated, he went back home to Hungary and learned that all his family members (his mother, his father, his siblings, his grandparents) were killed. He enrolled in the Hungarian Art Academy and became a sculptor.

Paula Burger (1934–2019) was born in a small town, in the current territory of Belarus. When she was 7, she was taken to the Novogrudok ghetto together with her family, but her father managed to escape. Her mother was killed after failing to provide any information about her escaped spouse. With the help of the Bielski partisan group, her father managed to get Paula and her brother out of the ghetto, by concealing them in an empty water barrel. They remained with the partisan group throughout the war. Although very young, Paula actively contributed to armed resistance, often using her small hands to help pack explosives to derail and destroy Nazi supply trains. A few years after the war, she moved to Chicago and eventually became a successful painter.

  1. After they watch the video, the participants are engaged in a discussion based on the following questions (the trainer can present the first two questions to the participants before viewing the video, as this can guide their focus while watching the video):
    • What resonated with you from Mr. Cséri’s/Ms. Burger’s testimony?
    • What can we learn from Mr. Cséri’s/Ms. Burger’s testimony?
    • Why do you think Holocaust denial affects him/her?
    • Do you think Holocaust distortion also affected Mr. Cséri/Ms. Burger? In what way?
  2. The trainer explains that Holocaust distortion is not a new phenomenon, that the Nazis, their collaborators and allies sought to disguise their atrocities in various ways. They used overlapping strategies of distortion and denial, with the intent to hide or to downplay the gravity of their acts. The trainer gives some examples of how distortion and denial manifested during the Holocaust, for example: (a) the language used by the Nazis, such as the term “final solution” as a euphemism for genocide; (b) photos, videos or staged visits organized by the Nazis such as the visits of the Red Cross to Theresienstadt that portrayed a “normal” life in the ghettos and camps; (c) forcing camp prisoners to write letters to their families stating that everything was well, etc. After the war, Holocaust distortion continued in various forms. The trainer invites the participants to watch a one-minute video in which Holocaust survivor Ludwig Weiler refers to the speech of the Hungarian primate (Bishop) Jozsef Mindszenty:
  3. The trainer highlights the words of Bishop Mindszenty, as presented by Ludwig Weiler: “I cannot understand all the commotion which is being created that so many Jews got killed. Afterall, there was a war, many Hungarians got killed and many other nations. Maybe, a somewhat larger percentage got killed, but I am not aware of anything serious,” and explains that this is a form of Holocaust distortion which downplays the systematic murder of Jews in Europe and minimizes the number of the victims. The forms of manifestations of Holocaust distortion have diversified throughout the years.
  4. The participants are invited to work in groups of 4–5 people and discuss manifestations of Holocaust distortion which they encountered or about which they read/heard. Each group receives a copy of the Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion (Handout) adopted by IHRA’s Member Countries in 2013 and included in the United Nation’s General Assembly Resolution A/76/L.30 in 2020. The participants are asked to write down the examples of manifestations of Holocaust distortion they discuss as they will be asked to share them during the next activity.



lesson plan

Training Outline


Handout: The IHRA Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

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