Paris, 9 July 2018
Simon Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr.Shimon Samuels, opened the proceedings, noting that, “this unique Holocaust essay competition programme, co-organized by the Association Verbe et Lumiere-Vigilance (VetL-V) together with the Simon Wiesenthal Centre-Europe, (CSW) and the Russian Holocaust Centre (RHC) is now in its fourteenth year and annually invites to Paris the five student winners from across the former Soviet Union, to present their research findings at UNESCO.”
The 2018 laureates are respectively from Moscow, Vladimir, Orel, Petrozadovsk and Berlin (the latter a German intern at the RHC in Moscow). These were chosen from well over 2,000 submissions.Attended by the delegations of Russia, Canada, Germany and Israel, the proceedings were opened by Dr. Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education. She commended the laureates' initiative as an opportunity for UNESCO’s agenda in Holocaust education", speaking of the organization's Holocaust Education Policy Guide and newly published Teachers’ Guide on Antisemitism and agreeing to consider joining Verbe et Lumiere-Vigilance, the Wiesenthal Center and the Russian Holocaust Centre, in editing for publicaton, the fourteen years' winning essays. Dr. Giannini quoted from the students’ papers, asking if they sought an academic career as encouraged by the network of UNESCO University Chairs.
Russian Delegate to UNESCO, Counsellor Alexei Kovalenko, recalled "the new waves of antisemitism, historical revisionism, Islamophobia, Christianophobia... even Russophobia," hoping that students "will grow to be experienced debaters to fight on an academic level." Kovalenko stressed that "almost half of the six million Jews were murdered on the territory of the Soviet Union - a concept understood only years later... we are at a crossroads... the passing of the witnesses... In WWII, the Soviet Union did not always see eye to eye with the West, but we joined as allies to fight as an anti-Hitler coalition... It is time to reunite again... History is a never ending lesson.”
From left to right: (seated) Alexei Mikhailov, Carla Kerkmann, Tatiana Victorova, Michail Zakharov; (standing) Alaxei Rogatykh, Genc Seiti, Ilya Altman, Laurence Sigal, Stefania Giannini, Georges Haddad, Alla Gerber, Jens Streckert, Graciela Vaserman Samuels, Shimon Samuels, Richard Odier, Alexei Kovalenko, Benedetto Zacchiroli, Stephane Teicher, Alex Uberti.
RHC President, Alla Gerber, noted, “when the Centre opened, the ‘Holocaust’ was unknown in the Soviet Union, so we defined its mission statement as ‘memory and prevention’ - ‘you will hear this in our students’ innovative approaches... Antisemitism is not an organized movement in Russia, but for the 26 years of our Foundation’s work, its main goal has been to understand the resurgence of this evil.”Professor Georges Haddad, President of the Sorbonne University of Paris, recalled his election at age 29 - “the youngest, first Jew and mathematician appointed as Sorbonne President". He emphasized the subsequent antisemitic graffiti on the walls. Haddad invited Elie Wiesel, Simone Veil and Bernard Kanovitch, to give a series of lectures on the Shoah.
- The first was Elie Wiesel on “Can we trust G-d after Auschwitz?”, based on his book “The Trial of Shamgorod”, setting the question, "Who would agree to be the defendant counsel for G-d?"
- The second, Simone Veil, on “Can we teach the Shoah?” Her response was: “No, we can inform, but not teach or explain"...
- The third, André Caspi, on “The silence of French historians” in regard to the Holocaust and collaborationism, and the challenge of transmitting the untransmittable!
The late Claude Lanzmann, when asked by the journalist El Kabbach, “what do you fear most?” he responded “the human being!” In sum, concluded Haddad: “The Shoah is the utmost black hole of human history... nothing could equal it.”
Laurence Sigal, Founder and Curator of the Paris Jewish Museum, now Director-General of the Judaism Foundation of France, spoke of Claude Lanzmann’s documentary film “Shoah” as “changing the rules of film-making and documentaries... He understood that nations were too busy with their own post-WWII reconstruction... They wanted to go forward, not back to the darkness... It was survivors, liberators, resistance fighters, researchers and documentalists of testimonies and writers who highlighted the will for life... the victims die for a second time when there is noone to remember them.”..." history needs to be retold constantly, as the same events are subject to many forms perception throughout the generations." Sigal also stressed how art can be a testimony and therapy, giving the example of the Wiesenthal Centre's Friedl Dicker-Brandeis collection in memory of Terezin.
Dr. Ilya Altman, Chairman of the RHC, thanked the ADG for considering “the UNESCO publication of our students’ papers,” adding, “this year’s announcement was distributed by the United Nations Office in Moscow, thus recieving the submission of papers from Ecuador to the United States, as the competition went global... perhaps we could bring these students together internationally, perhaps at the Sorbonne?”
Altman then introduced each of the laureates to present the results of their research (see abstracts attached):
Aleksei Mikhailov, M.A. student of Petrozavodsk State University (Petrozavodsk, living in Karelia): «The problem of comprehending the Holocaust in the academic and political community in Sweden in the 1990's - 2000's»
Tatiana Victorova, M.A. student of Vladimir State University named after A.G. and N.G. Stolyetov (Vladimir): «Problems of researching documents on the history of the Trostenets (Belarus) camp complex» Aleksei Rogatykh, M.A. student of Russian State University for Humanities (Moscow): «The Holocaust through the eyes of the Auschwitz liberators»
Mikhail Zakharov, M.A. student of the Orel State University named after I.S. Turgenev (Orel): «Vice versa: the European extreme right transformation of the representation of Jews and the Holocaust»
Carla Kerkmann, student at the Alice Salomon College (Berlin): «How does the Holocaust affect our lives 4 generations after?»
DCM of the Israel delegation, Joseph Moustaki, responded to Zakharov’s paper, clarifying that, “as a diplomat, I speak with all, but will not have contact with any who claim to be pro-Israel just to cover their antisemitism.” He continued, “your essays are the voice of those who died. You give them a voice through your message. The State of Israel thanks you and the organizers of this programme".. He added, "among most historical events, the Shoah is the one where the feelings and emotions are the most solicited. This type of initiative provides tools to counter the new forms of incitement and hate against 'the other'." The Canadian Ambassador, Ms. Elaine Ayotte, asked the students, “what is the reaction of your parents to your work? Keep asking questions!”... “Canada is proud to fund the UNESCO Holocaust Education programme.”
Benedetto Zacchiroli, President of the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism and other forms of discrimination (ECCAR), asked about “vehicles for the transfer of the legacy of the Holocaust?”
German laureate, Carla Kerkmann, responded, “video cannot bring back the person, but it is still important for memory.”
German Delegation Counsellor, Dr. Jens Streckert, lauded “the committment of youth to research the multitude of data, to convey the message”... stressing “German support for UNESCO’s work on Holocaust Education.”
Genc Seiti, Director of the Division of Member States and Partners of UNESCO, acknowledged the organizers on behalf of UNESCO and added his support for a continuation of the Russian laureates programme.
Samuels thanked UNESCO Advisor to the Director General, Dr. Graciela Vaserman Samuels, for her input into the programme as also the Centre's staff Sheila Ryan and Alex Uberti. He also congratulated Dr. Altman for this year’s choice of laureates as “the most sophisticated ever, displaying an awareness of their role and oriented towards the future.”
Verbe et Lumière - Vigilance President, Richard Odier, concluded in stressing the need for empathy... the recent loss of Simone Veil and Claude Lanzmann makes us realize that the Shoah is not just a vehicle for education, it must touch the heart." He noted "Simone Veil's reservation at the word 'Liberation', preferring 'Opening of the Doors'. Veil illustrated how her 'liberation' by the British at Bergen-Belsen did not end the over 500 per day dieing of hunger and disease and the continued killings by German and Hungarian guards, retained by the 'liberators' to 'keep order'!"
Samuels addressing the “Holocaust: Annihilation, Liberation, Rescue” exhibition.
Russian Federation Counsellor, Alexei Kovalenko, invited all participants to the UNESCO launch of the RHC and Russian Deleagation’s exhibition on the Holocaust in the Soviet Union - entitled “Holocaust: Annihilation, Liberation, Rescue” - that was opened by Russian Ambassador Alexander Kuznetsov, Russian Jewish Congress President Yuri Kanner, RHC President Alla Gerber and Simon Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels.