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Understanding the Meaning of Holocaust Distortion


Number of participants: 5–30
Duration: 90 minutes

Description of the activity

  1. The trainer invites the participants to watch the following 12-minute explanatory video of Holocaust distortion.

    While watching the video, the participants should write down what they find
    (a) surprising
    (b) interesting
    (c) extremely relevant
    (d) what they did not understand
    (e) what needs further clarifications, etc.

  2. 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. The trainer can create a “parking lot”: when the participants raise important topics that cannot be addressed in the moment – so as not to disrupt the learning flow – they can be “parked” on a flipchart or whiteboard and addressed later on throughout the training.
  3. 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, or 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


  2. 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.
  3. After they watch the video, the participants are engaged in a discussion based on the following questions (the trainer can present the first questions to the participants before viewing the video, as this can guide their focus while watching):
    • 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?
  4. The trainer informs the participants that in 2013, IHRA’s Member Countries adopted the Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion and in 2020 the United Nation’s General Assembly made use of the working definition in its Resolution A/76/L.30. The participants receive the handout with the definition and are given a couple of minutes to read it and to underline what stands out for them in it.
  5. The participants are asked to form groups of 4–5 people and work together for 10-15 minutes to:
    • discuss what stood out for them in the definition
    • share examples of concrete manifestations of Holocaust distortion, related to the five categories of distortion presented in the definition.
  6. The trainer invites the groups back to the plenary, gives each group a few minutes to share the key aspects of their discussion, and then facilitates a debriefing discussion based on the following questions:
    • Was there something that surprised you in the examples offered by the colleagues? If so, what?
    • To what extent do you think most people are aware of the meaning and impact of Holocaust distortion?
    • Do you think that most professionals in your area are able to identify Holocaust distortion when they see it?
    • What is the main thing you learned from this activity? How will this help you in your work?
  7. The trainer concludes by stating that laws against Holocaust denial exist in the European Union, in Israel and in the Russian Federation. Some courts in the United States and the United Kingdom have taken judicial notice that the Holocaust occurred. Moreover, distorting the Holocaust for the purpose of public incitement to violence and hatred is illegal according to the Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law. Nevertheless, legislation alone cannot solve such a complex issue.


lesson plan

Training Outline


The Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

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