Historians Debate Holocaust Research in Berlin | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.12.2006
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Historians Debate Holocaust Research in Berlin

Leading Holocaust historians gathered in Berlin to discuss the current state of Holocaust studies. The meeting has been widely seen as a reaction to a controversial Holocaust conference in Iran.

A yellow Star of David, which Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis at a Holocaust memorial

Holocaust research has benefited from the opening of eastern European archives

Leading Holocaust historians from all over the world gathered in Berlin on Monday to discuss the latest research results made available after the opening of important European archives in the 1990s.

The conference -- organized by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (BPB) -- is seen by many as a response to a two-day conference on the Holocaust, which started in Teheran on Monday.

US historian Raul Hilberg, the author of "Destruction of the European Jews," which is widely considered one of the standard texts on the Holocaust, said he wanted to make "a statement" by attending the Berlin conference.

"I don't think a dialogue is possible with people who deny the Holocaust," Hilberg said.

Between history and politics

A rabbi handing out his business card to a Muslim clergyman

Even before it opened, the Teheran conference was condemned by Germany, the US and Israel.

BPB president Thomas Krüger said the Berlin conference was designed to respond to the "absurd arguments" of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who has questioned the existence of the Holocaust and said Israel should be wiped off the map.

"Doubting the Holocaust and questioning the existence of Israel are fundamental attacks on the democratic values of Western societies," Krüger said.

Peter Longerich from the Research Center for the Holocaust and 20th Century History at London University, however, said that seeing the Berlin as a reaction to the gathering in Iran was a connection being made largely by the media.

"As somebody who is actively doing research in this area, I would say that our debate and our discussion are not influenced by systematic approaches to deny the Holocaust," Longerich said. "I don't think that this conference is intellectually a reaction to what is going on somewhere else in the world."

Understanding the Holocaust

Longerich delivered a talk about the latest trends in international Holocaust research. He said that researchers now had a much better understanding of what sort of people the perpetrators were and now believed that there wasn't a single specific order which resulted in the Holocaust, but rather a string of decisions leaving Nazi officials much room for interpretation.

Auschwitz concentration camp

Researchers now have a better understanding of the context in whicht the Holocaust took place

The opening of archives in eastern Europe has also contributed to the researchers' understanding of Nazi policies and crimes that were committed during WWII.

"A lot of work has been done after the opening of the eastern European archives in the beginning of the 1990s," Longerich said. "We now have much more detailed picture of the Holocaust in the countries in which mass murder took place. We know much more about the former Soviet Union, about German-occupied parts of Poland. And we have a huge amount of works that open insights into the context of the Holocaust."

Longerich also criticized the fact that scientific conferences taking place in Germany were few and far between. He said he feels that given the rapid progress in Holocaust research, there should be more opportunities for the public and the scientific community to debate the latest findings.

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