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Germany has taken the rotating lead of the IHRA Holocaust remembrance intergovernmental body, 75 years after the end of World War II. Sweden's former Prime Minister Goran Persson initiated the alliance in 1998.
The chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) passed Tuesday to Germany for one year, with the aim of countering acts and perpetrators of Holocaust denial and falsification.
Germany's assumption of the IHRA chair from Luxembourg — at an evening ceremony in Berlin — will overlap in July with Germany assuming the six-month presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.
Two IHRA assemblies are planned this year in Germany: one in Berlin in June, and the second in Leipzig in November, with a focus on creating a "Global Task Force against Holocaust falsification."
Heading Germany's IHRA team is ambassador Michaela Küchler, who is the German Foreign Office's special commissioner for relations with Jewish organizations. Since 2008, the IHRA's permanent office is located in Berlin.
Germany bears 'special responsibility'
The Central Council of Jews in Germany said the post-war Federal Republic of Germany bore "special responsibility" in the battle against "forgetting" the murder of six million Jews under the 12-year Nazi Hitler regime that was defeated in 1945.
The council also welcomed the intention of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government to promote definition updates, help evolve IHRA teaching materials, and make anti-Semitism a more severe crime.
Central focus: Definitions
Küchler said the aim was to "do more" in defining Holocaust denial and falsification as well as anti-Semitism, adopted by 19 IHRA members in 2013 and 2016.
Paragraph 130 of Germany's Penal Code already makes Holocaust denial punishable with up to five years' imprisonment. Similar laws exist in 18 other European nations.
The agenda of the 34-nation IHRA — comprising mostly of EU nations (but excluding Malta and Cyprus), as well as the US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Britain and Switzerland — also includes antiziganism, or hostility towards Sinti and Roma, and an early warning system for potential future genocides.
Persson's 1998 initiative resulted in the Stockholm Declaration of 2000 that stressed the singularity or exceptional character of the Holocaust; obligations to educate younger generations; and to ensure a future "world without genocide."
In the past, critics of Germany's adoption of the IHRA definition had asserted that it potentially blurred the line between anti-Semitism, so defined, and criticism of Israel.
'Parade of hate and intolerance'
Among 50 heads of state who in late-January attended Israel's Yad Vashem remembrance of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Soviet troops, French President Emmanuel Macron slammed the resurgence of anti-Semitism worldwide, calling it a "parade of hate and intolerance."
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged the world to adopt the IHRA's updated definitions, describing anti-Semitism as a "chronic" scourge from the political right and left that throughout history had taken on various guises.
Chairing a German integration summit in Berlin Monday, 12 days after racist shooting attacks in Hanau, Chancellor Merkel said the country's fight against racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia was a matter of "deepest concern" for her grand coalition government — which has been in office since early 2018.
ipj/stb (dpa, AFP, KNA, epd)