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Lessons for Civil Society Organizations


1. What is Holocaust distortion?

Memory has its own language, its own texture, its own secret melody, its own archeology, and its own limitations; it too can be wounded, stolen, and shamed; but it is up to us to rescue it and save it from becoming cheap, banal, and sterile. To remember means to lend an ethical dimension to all endeavors and aspirations.

Elie Wiesel

Learning Objectives

  • To develop knowledge and critical understanding of various forms of manifestation of Holocaust distortion
  • To raise awareness of the dangers of Holocaust distortion and its impact on societies

Learning Activities

  1. Understanding the Meaning of Holocaust Distortion
  2. Key Manifestations of Holocaust Distortion
  3. Further Resources

Suggestions for Trainers
The educational activities in this Unit are meant both to offer information and to stimulate reflection and curiosity to learn further about Holocaust distortion. The participants are invited to first watch a short video explaining what Holocaust distortion is. When discussing this video, it is not necessary to address every detail, as many aspects presented in the video will be returned to in the second activity of this unit. At this point, it is important to make sure that the participants understand the meaning of the terms Holocaust denial and Holocaust distortion and know that this training will focus specifically on Holocaust distortion, though the two phenomena are sometimes intertwined. Then, the activity moves towards understanding the impact of Holocaust distortion at the individual level, while the impact of Holocaust distortion at the societal level will be discussed in Unit 3.

The second activity in this unit is based on the following publications:

Understanding Holocaust Distortion: Contexts, Influences and Examples, published by the IHRA in 2021.

History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media, published by the UN and UNESCO in 2022.

The categories presented in the handout and the examples related to them – presented in the video and identified by the participants themselves – promote antisemitism and draw on antisemitic tropes and prejudices. It is important to acknowledge this and inform participants that this aspect will be further analyzed in Unit 2. One of the categories specifically mentions the genocide of the Roma, but several categories also apply to Roma and other groups persecuted in 1933–1945. There are no texts issued by national or intergovernmental bodies that recognize, define, or sanction the denial and distortion of the Roma genocide.1 The working definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination mentions practices of “distorting or denying persecution of Roma or the genocide of the Roma” and “glorifying the genocide of the Roma.”

It might happen that some participants agree with certain assertions that distort the Holocaust or do not consider them as manifestations of Holocaust distortion. When this happens, the trainer should first allow other participants to express their opinions, as comments coming from their peers may have more impact on the participants. Then, the trainer can further clarify and provide resources that can help participants better understand why those assertions are, in fact, manifestations of Holocaust distortion. The reports mentioned above, as well as the resources in the further reading section, can help trainers prepare for such situations. Nevertheless, it is not always possible to change someone’s mind on the spot and the trainer needs to decide how much time to allocate when one or more participants disagree on certain points. The trainer may also decide to speak with the participant individually or return to the subject at a later date. The different units in the training should be seen as complementary in a process that is comprehensive and gradually leads to changes in both knowledge and attitudes.

According to the principles of participatory learning, the participants should feel free to express their opinions in a safe environment. Violent/hateful comments should not be permitted, but careful consideration should be given so as to not completely shut down disagreements as they are a source of learning and growth. When discussed empathetically, respectfully and deconstructed with facts, misinformed opinions can be changed. More information can be found in the Methodological Guide for Trainers.

The recommendations for individual study offered in this unit can be shared with the participants and should be consulted by the trainer when preparing the training.

1 According to the study The Roma Holocaust/Roma Genocide in Southeastern Europe – Between Oblivion, Acknowledgment and Distortion, published in 2022 by The Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities and the Roma Program at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University.

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