Q&A with Nina Krieger about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) meeting in Stockholm
In late June, VHEC Executive Director Nina Krieger attended the meetings of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in Stockholm, Sweden.
IHRA is an international, intergovernmental body that unites governments and experts to strengthen, advance and promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance. Each of the 35 member countries recognize that it is imperative to strengthen the moral commitment of societies and to combat growing Holocaust denial and antisemitism.
Q: You were one of the seven expert Canadian delegates and representatives attending the IHRA sessions. What was the mood like among the international delegates in Stockholm?
A: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a key item of discussion. The IHRA’s Honourary Chairman, Yehuda Bauer, urged member countries to unite and use IHRA’s distinct and important voice to stand behind Ukraine and unequivocally condemn Russia’s unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation. Bauer noted the illiberal trends gaining traction across the globe, and the role of the IHRA in championing human rights, historical accuracy, and freedom of research and expression. The war was omnipresent in discussions, as was the rising tide of Holocaust distortion, including in Russia’s recent rhetoric around ‘denazification’ in Ukraine. I think delegates were mindful that th
e work of the IHRA has never been more important.
The motto of the Swedish chairmanship of the IHRA is “together for impact.” With the IHRA resuming in-person meetings for the first time in more than two years and world events demonstrating the need for the IHRA’s mission, the appetite for concrete action and demonstrable impact was apparent.
Q: Can you share any key take-aways from your meetings?
A: I am a member of the Memorials and Museums Working Group (MMWG), comprised of representatives from IHRA member countries working in museums and at memorial sites. Ukraine was a special focus, and we learned up-to-date information about the status of Babyn Yar and other Holocaust sites, and the threats to archives and museum professionals in Ukraine. The VHEC is partnering with UBC to bring a refugee Ukrainian Holocaust scholar to Vancouver this fall. I am proud that our local community is already finding ways to respond to the crisis in a way that is rooted in our mandate and that will hopefully make a small but tangible difference, something I spoke about during the meetings.
The MMWG learned about new museums and Holocaust sites at risk in Croatia and Serbia, and engaged in discussions about strategies for reopening museums post-pandemic. The responsiveness and resilience of museums around the world to events in recent years is inspiring and illuminating.
I also attended the meetings of the Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, where we learned about important research projects underway to address the underrepresentation of the persecution of Roma and Sinti in Holocaust historiography. Persecution of Roma continues, amplified by the Ukrainian conflict, where Roma refugees are treated deplorably. The committee shines a light on the plight of the Roma historically and in the present day, and is working on a number of important initiatives, including the development of guidelines on teaching about the genocide of the Roma. This builds on the recent adoption of a working definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination and will be an important companion to the IHRA’s Recommendations for Teaching and Learning about the Holocaust.
Q: How did meeting your fellow experts and representatives inspire the work ahead of the VHEC?
A: One of the IHRA’s strategic priorities is countering Holocaust distortion, something that relates directly to our work as a Holocaust museum and education centre. We have participated in the IHRA’s “Protect the Facts” campaign, raising awareness about Holocaust distortion and its risks and consequences, while at the same time pointing to concrete ways our work—particularly around documentation and education—serves to counter this phenomenon.
Alongside contributing to and gaining from discussions about the international dimensions of our work, participating in the IHRA allows me and the VHEC to engage closely with Canadian colleagues from coast to coast. The Canadian delegation consists of wonderful museum professionals, educators and academics. Although we are typically separated by several time zones, meeting up at IHRA meetings allows us to exchange perspectives on our work—strengthening our collaboration and fostering a culture of Holocaust education and remembrance nationally.
Read the IHRA media release
Canada and the IHRA
Canada has been a member of the IHRA since 2009 and in 2019 adopted the its working definition of antisemitism as part of its anti-racism strategy. As part of the Canadian delegation to the IHRA, headed by the Honourable Irwin Cotler Nina was among seven expert delegates and representatives from Global Affairs Canada and Canadian Heritage.
Nina Krieger joins fellow attendees of the IHRA Plenary Session in Stockholm
Guided by the motto, “Together for impact,” more than 200 experts, political representatives, and representatives of international organizations and civil society met in Stockholm over four days to advance education, remembrance, and research of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Roma.
In her address to the IHRA Plenary, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said: “We must remain steadfast in our efforts to counter violence, hatred and ignorance, which are increasingly undermining peace and democracy. Holocaust denial and distortion are gaining ground – we cannot allow this to happen.”
“We mustn’t forget that we are bound together in this work not only by choice, but also by the facts of history,” IHRA Chair Ambassador Ann Bernes underlined in her welcome address. “Our meetings are critical reminders of how important it is to face this history and protect the facts, so that we can develop policies and foster societies that can move forward together.”
The Stockholm plenary meetings were held four months into Russia’s unjustified military aggression against Ukraine and gave considerable focus to the issue, with statements in keeping with the IHRA Chair’s statement on Ukraine and Babyn Yar made on 3 March 2022, deploring the extensive loss of life and rejecting the gross Holocaust distortion being used to justify it. Member Countries reaffirmed their commitment to democratic principles and efforts to counter Holocaust distortion, antisemitism, and antigypsyism, and engaged in extensive discussions on possible initiatives to address the situation and assist Ukraine within the areas of expertise of the IHRA, and in dialogue and collaboration with its Permanent International Partners, as well as with the wider international community.
UBC Student Podcast: VHEC Collections
For their class on public history at the University of British Columbia, graduate students in HIST 595B, taught by Dr. Richard Menkis, created podcast episodes engaging with library materials, artefacts and archives in the VHEC collection. Podcast episodes were created with the assistance of Georgia Twiss, a co-host of The Broadscast.
Public History & the VHEC
For their class on public history at the University of British Columbia, graduate students in HIST 595B, taught by Dr. Richard Menkis, created public exhibits engaging with library materials, artefacts and archives in the VHEC collection. Their presentations explored three main themes: Diaries & correspondence; Holocaust photography and Propaganda.
Again: War Triggers Memories
Sidi Schaffer shares her perspective as a child survivor, flooded by memories evoked by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Excerpted from her article published April 8 in the Jewish Independent.
All this is taking me back decades to another time, the Second World War: Romania, 1940. It triggers memories of my early childhood journey of displacement, fear, cold and hunger. Then 2 years old, my family and I – and thousands of other Jews from northern Romania – were driven out of our homes to the unknown. For one year we were forced to live in a ghetto in a city called Czernowitz (now in Ukraine) in terrible conditions.
After one year, the ghetto was dissolved and we were forced for days to walk by foot in deep mud, carrying bundles of our meagre belongings on our backs toward an area called Transnistria. Long lines of frightened people, old and young, crying babies, the sick and those with disabilities. Those who could not walk were left behind or shot. The Romanian or German soldiers riding on their horses where shouting and beating up anyone who did not comply with their orders.
They forced us to walk from village to village until we arrived in a place called Djurin, where we settled down. There, we lived for four years in terrible condition. My father was taken from us to a work camp. My mother collected dry wood bunches from the nearby forest and exchanged them for food with the Ukrainian women who felt sorry for us. Toward the end of the war, my mother was injured in a bombardment when the Germans were retreating.
I am glad that I was too young to remember most of my fears, but I can’t escape the ripples of horror from those times. They are engraved in my psyche, in my pores. I tremble now when I see the young children on the TV screen with their big, scared eyes. Maybe they are hungry, cold or frightened. I wish I could hug and console them and feed them with my special chicken soup.
Joint Statement by Museums for Ukraine
17 Museums across the World Release Joint Statement Condemning Russian War Crimes in Ukraine
In response to the reports of mass graves and acts of brutality against Ukrainian citizens by Russian armed forces, 17 Holocaust museums from four countries have raised their voices together to speak out. In a joint statement, the organizations condemn these acts as war crimes and support the International Criminal Court as it investigates charges of genocide by the Russian military against the Ukrainian people. This statement represents a global network of institutions which educate visitors about previous atrocities in Europe and beyond to work toward a future where “never again” is a reality for everyone.
The Canadian Jewish Community Stands With Ukraine
The Jewish community of Canada stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and our friends and neighbours in the Ukrainian Canadian community during these horrifying times. Canadians have been appalled by the ongoing aggression against Ukraine and the devastation that has resulted, and we encourage our fellow citizens to remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine’s fight for freedom.
We call on the Government of Canada to do everything in its power to push back against Putin’s belligerence, protect the Ukrainian people, and, in the name of democracy, do what is required to defend the sovereignty of an independent and democratic Ukraine.
We stand with Ukraine.
Opinion: Holocaust denial and distortion in COVID-19 era fuelling antisemitism
Daily Hive, Jan 26 2022 Op-ED by Nina Krieger, Executive Director, VHEC, and Nico Slobinsky, Senior Director, Pacific Region, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
When Robbie Waisman learned that Alberta teacher James Keegstra was engaging in Holocaust denial in the early 1980s, he recalled a memory from decades earlier, when he was 13 years old in the Buchenwald concentration camp.