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Lessons for Educators


2. Impact of Holocaust distortion

Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing; it is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.

Simone Weil

Learning Objectives

  • To raise awareness about the ways in which Holocaust distortion is spread online and offline
  • To understand how Holocaust distortion reinforces antisemitism and other forms of hatred
  • To reflect on the responsibility to counter Holocaust distortion

Learning Activities

  1. Critical Analysis of Holocaust Distortion
  2. Holocaust Distortion and Antisemitism
  3. Further Resources

Suggestions for Trainers

The activities in this unit are designed to engage participants in processes of critical analysis and reflection upon reasons, contexts and means for promoting Holocaust distortion, as well as to understand the role of Holocaust distortion in reinforcing antisemitism.

In the first activity, the focus is on Holocaust distortion on social media. The activity uses data published in 2022 by the United Nations and UNESCO in the report mentioned above. This study analyses messages posted on Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, TikTok and Twitter that celebrate, mock and distort the history of the Holocaust. On these platforms, Holocaust denial is less present, but Holocaust distortion is far more common and takes various forms. The reason for using statistics in this activity is to raise awareness about the prevalence of Holocaust distortion on social media, which young people are likely to encounter.

The case studies used in this activity are examples of Holocaust distortion that either trivialize the Holocaust, use it for commercial gains, or equate current events with the Holocaust, disregarding historical facts and context or glorify the Roma genocide.1

Comparing the Holocaust with other atrocity crimes and mass human rights violations is a legitimate academic endeavor, which can help better understand similarities, concepts and mechanism that lead to genocide and serve to learn from the past, in order to prevent such atrocities now and in the future. The concern is not about meaningful comparisons, but about drawing equivalences in ways that diminish the magnitude and the relevance of the Holocaust, that infringe upon the human dignity of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, and that trivialize or misappropriate the history of the Holocaust for a political or ideological agenda.

The United Nations and UNESCO found that Holocaust distortion is often present alongside racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia on social media. Holocaust distortion “can be considered as part of a broader pattern of radical online counterculture. These prejudices, attitudes and ideologies help to explain, for example, why some mock, deride and celebrate the Holocaust. Hateful ideas such as homophobia and misogyny fuel antisemitism when Jews are held to be the source of any manner of perceived ‘problems’ and ‘threats’”.2

The second activity focuses on the ways in which Holocaust distortion reinforces antisemitism. The participants are invited to discuss a short video by Yehuda Bauer, world-renowned historian, scholar of the Holocaust and former IHRA Honorary Chairman. In this video, among other things, he refers to two antisemitic tropes – bolshevism as an alleged Jewish invention and as an alleged attempt to establish Jewish control over the world. The participants are asked to identify and discuss these tropes, as well as to discuss others, based on several cartoons that are used as case studies of Holocaust distortion.

It is important that the participants fully understand that these cartoons are used as negative examples, as ways to illustrate manifestations of Holocaust distortion and that they are in no way endorsed by the developers of this training or by the trainers. These images are meant to be used only in the context of a comprehensive training, in which a safe learning space is created, and enough time is allocated for the unfolding of a meaningful pedagogical process. Showing these kind of images has the potential to create (or reinforce) stereotypes in the minds of the participants. Careful debriefing and enough context are needed to ensure that this does not happen. It is not advised to show these photos to school students. The photos should not be used without prior discussions on the other topics proposed in this training and enough background on Holocaust distortion.

The examples of Holocaust distortion presented in the Annex rely on antisemitic tropes such as greed, world dominance or conspiracy theories (images 1 and 2), glorifying Hitler (image 3) and referencing the idea that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust for their own gain (image 4).
In the process of discussing manifestations of Holocaust distortion, it is important to remember that, even if some manifestations of Holocaust distortion are unintentional and not necessarily expressed with antisemitic intent, they always reinforce and spread a culture of antisemitism and reflect a deep-rooted unwillingness to confront the historical reality of the Holocaust – that this was a genocide of six million Jews, committed and organized by non-Jews.

In order to prepare for conducting this activity, the trainers can consult the following resources:

UNESCO and OSCE/ODIHR – Addressing Antisemitism through Education: Guidelines for Policy Makers 

OSCE/ODIHR – Addressing Anti-Semitism through Education: Teaching Aids

USHMM – About Antisemitism

IHRA – What is antisemitism?

Yad Vashem – MOOC on antisemitism

1 Glorifying the Roma genocide is only one form of distorting the persecution of Roma. A comprehensive overview of the different forms of manifestation is presented in the study 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.

2 History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media, published by the UN and UNESCO in 2022, p.53

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