Skip to content

Lessons for Policymakers and Government Officials


3. Human rights and Holocaust distortion

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. … Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Learning Objectives

  • To develop a critical understanding of the link between Holocaust distortion and human rights
  • To raise awareness about the ways in which Holocaust distortion reinforces antisemitism
  • To enhance commitment for promoting respect for human rights

Learning Activities

  1. Holocaust Distortion and Human Rights
  2. Holocaust Distortion and Antisemitism
  3. Further Resources

Suggestions for Trainers

The activities proposed in this unit aim to engage participants in deeper reflections about the ways in which Holocaust distortion conflicts with human rights and contributes the spread of antisemitism.

The first activity engages the participants in a process of reflection upon the ways in which Holocaust distortion conflicts with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Afterwards, the participants are engaged in a critical thinking process that asks them to express their agreement/disagreement with a few statements. When the participants offer their arguments, a symbolic microphone (a pen, for example) can be used, in order to avoid everyone speaking at the same time.

As this activity focuses on constructive disagreements and stimulating reflections, the trainers should refrain from taking positions or commenting on the statements during this part. During the debriefing, the trainers can clarify statements and offer further information, while also addressing some of the opinions expressed, in order to bring them up for further discussion. However, this does not mean that all opinions should be tolerated. Any manifestation of hate speech or opinion that goes against human rights values should be addressed and deconstructed. For this reason, it is important to create a safe learning space from the beginning of the training, a space in which the participants feel free to express themselves but are also open to being challenged.

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 IHRA Honorary Chairman. In this video, among other things, he makes reference to two antisemitic tropes – bolshevism as a Jewish invention and as an 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.

Afterwards, the participants are invited to discuss several examples of Holocaust distortion manifested through cartoons and memes. The trainers must clearly convey the message that these images are used as negative examples and as ways to illustrate manifestations of Holocaust distortion and that they are in no way endorsed by the developers of this training. 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 kinds 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. 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. The image for Group 1 is a cartoon presented at a yearly Iranian contest about the Holocaust, which is a major platform for promoting antisemitism and Holocaust distortion. This particular cartoon plays on the trope that Jewish people are greedy, portraying the idea that they use the Holocaust in order to gain money. The image for Group 2 plays on the trope of world dominance, promoting the view that Jewish people created the COVID-19 vaccines in order to destroy humanity and comparing vaccination with Auschwitz. The image for Group 3 glorifies the Holocaust, while the image for Group 4 builds on the trope that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust, for their own gain, while ignoring other problems.

In the process of discussion on manifestations of Holocaust distortion, it is important to remember that even if some are unintentional and do not necessarily have 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.

There are countless resources that the trainers can consult for further learning about human rights, about human rights education and about antisemitism, in order to be better prepared to conduct these activities. For example:

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – What are Human Rights? Human Rights – Handbook for Parliamentarians No 26

Council of Europe – CoE Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People (especially Chapter 4 – Understanding Human Rights)

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

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

USHMM – About Antisemitism

IHRA – Resources on antisemitism

On this Topic