This year, the world bade farewell to Elie Wiesel, one of the most prominent Holocaust survivors, a towering figure among those who tirelessly advocated for both justice and remembrance. Born in a small town in northwest Romania, he became a remarkable example of a person who achieved greatness without relying on power, functions and institutions.
Yet, losing another voice of conscience and a direct witness to the horrors of the Second World War is a clear and painful reminder that, in preserving the legacy and the lessons of the Holocaust, we cannot rely solely on the increasingly few survivors. Rather, we all need to carry forward the message of peace and respect and build resilient structures that can promote the “sacred duty of memory.”
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which Romania has the honour to chair until March 2017, is an intergovernmental body devoted to the concerted international education, research and action upon the causes and consequences of the Holocaust.
Midway through the Romanian IHRA chairmanship, we are proud to report progress on all our top priorities: working with the media and social media to foster knowledge on the Holocaust and promote dialogue, mutual understanding and tolerance; consolidating Holocaust studies in member states and beyond; and promoting academic research into the Holocaust.
A first plenary meeting of the IHRA was organized in Bucharest in May. Against the background of a global resurgence of the politics of hatred, 240 experts and policy-makers met to discuss the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and extremism. Equally important, IHRA adopted a working definition of anti-Semitism, a political tool that will serve the cause of clarity and action against this scourge. By adopting it, with significant Canadian support, the IHRA is setting an example of responsible conduct to other international fora, and hopes to inspire them to take action in their turn on setting a legally binding framework for addressing anti-Semitism.
A second plenary will take place in Iași, in November. The location was not randomly selected. The city in northeast Romania was the scene of a terrible pogrom that took place 75 years ago. As Romanian society starts to unveil more details about this terrible event, it is apparent that more has to be done to stress the enduring imperative of denouncing every form of intolerance and anti-Semitism.
An exhibition on the Iași Pogrom will be presented in the coming months in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto by the Embassy of Romania. While primarily a learning tool for the young generations of Romanians, the exhibition will offer to the Canadian public a glimpse into a lesser known, but seminal moment in the drama of the European Jews during the Second World War.
Promoting abroad the importance to combat indifference to anti-Semitism does not obscure the need for progress at home. Real progress has been made in Romania in previous years: building a Holocaust Memorial in Bucharest; legally establishing a national day to commemorate Holocaust victims; implementing a course and a high-school textbook on the Holocaust; creating an Institute for Holocaust Studies (named for Elie Wiesel); opening Holocaust archives; and conducting intensive specialized training for teachers, police officers and magistrates, to name but a few. Earlier this year, a Holocaust Memorial was opened in city of Gherla and work has started on establishing a Museum of Jewish History.
The mission of the IHRA is to bring to the attention of the world not just the memory of the past, but also our duty to the present. It is a never-ending task, but a worthwhile one. Identifying the roots of hate that led to the tragedy of the Holocaust is a prerequisite for a safe and democratic future. And the Romanian chairmanship of the IHRA is fully committed to playing its part in this arduous but rewarding task.