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Inaugural speech of the Special Secretary for Religious and Cultural Diplomacy, Dr. E. Lianos Liantis, at the international conference on “The Holocaust: Diachronic and Interdisciplinary Approaches” (Athens, 4 October 2017)
It is highly significant that the Faculty of Social Theology chose to contribute to the celebration of the 180th anniversary of the founding of the National and Kapodistrian University through a conference examining aspects of the Holocaust.
Greek society and the Greek scientific community were late in realising the magnitude of the tragedy of the Holocaust, mainly because of the intensity of developments following the Liberation of 1944 and, in particular, because of the Civil War, which dominated the intellectual and political life of Greece until the founding of the Third Hellenic Republic. Moreover, that time, the early 1980s, saw the writing of the most important literary text about the extermination of the Greek Jews, the short story “In those days ...”, by Giorgos Ioannou.
In 1955, the Jewish German philosopher Theodor Adorno gave us one of the most frequently cited dictums regarding intellectual output and the Holocaust: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” He thus called into question the use of the intellectual materials of modern Western Civilization, precisely because – as he argued – the Holocaust was not a momentary lapse, but the outcome of a political and cultural process. Some thirty years later, Emil Fackenheim wrote that we cannot comprehend the Holocaust – we can only comprehend its incomprehensibility.
This observation sums up the approach to dealing with the Holocaust through a new Via Negativa. Apophatism, or negation, as a theological method of approaching the incomprehensibility of the divine re-emerged in the second half of the 20th century as a philosophical method for examining the identity of the Holocaust. However, in parallel with the philosophical analysis, we also saw the development – among Jews and Christians – of the Theology of the Holocaust. Prominent theologians, clerics and scholars responded to the question of “How could God allow the Holocaust?” and the concomitant question of “How can any faith exist after the Holocaust?”. And herein lies the need for Greek theological schools to study the Shoah and give expression to theological responses based on the eastern tradition. I believe that this conference contributes to this end.
In recent years, Greece has carried out considerable actions concerning remembrance of the Holocaust, a crime, as the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs recently noted, “unique in history, that concerns the genocide of a people whose only ‘crime’ was their being different from other nations – nations that appeared much later in history.”
Of particular importance is our country’s participation, as a full member, in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the largest global organization bringing together government agencies and experts with the aim of formulating and promoting Holocaust education, remembrance and research; of discussing Holocaust-related issues, including anti-Semitism; and of supporting the commitments of the Stockholm Declaration of 2000.
The IHRA was launched in 1998 – as the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research – by former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. Persson decided to found an international organization that would promote Holocaust education throughout the world, and he asked U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to support this effort. Persson also developed the idea of an international forum for governments interested in discussing Holocaust-related educational actions, and this forum was held in Stockholm from 27 to 29 January 2000. Representatives of 46 governments, including 23 heads of state and 14 deputy prime minsters or ministers, attended this forum. The Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust resulted from the discussions at the Forum and is the founding document of the IHRA.
The IHRA currently has 31 member countries, 11 observer countries and seven permanent international partners, including the UN and UNESCO. The members commit to the Stockholm Declaration and to the implementation of national policies and programmes supporting Holocaust education, remembrance and research. The government of every member country appoints a delegation to IHRA meetings, made up of government officials and national experts, achieving a productive relationship between the two levels.
It is important to remember that the Holocaust did not begin with executions. It began with rhetoric and moved on to the violation of fundamental rights, culminating in genocide. This is why the IHRA feels such a strong need to combat all forms of hate speech, including anti-Semitism. The Holocaust shows us the potential consequences of policies that deprive people of their fundamental rights and impinge on human dignity.
The Holocaust and Holocaust-related research can teach us a great deal about the role of remembrance, which is so vital today.