A Holocaust essay competition in universities across the former Soviet Union, that began in 2004 with 25 submissions, this year exceeded 2,000.
Founded by the Moscow-based Russian Holocaust Centre and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's French educational affiliate "Verbe et Lumiere-Vigilance", the five winners are annually received by UNESCO in Paris.
Opened by the Wiesenthal Centre's Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels and the Co-Chairs of the Russian Holocaust Centre, Alla Gerber - first woman Parliamentarian in post-Soviet Russian - and Dr. IIya Altman, the event was attended by the Permanent Delegates to UNESCO of France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, United States and the Vatican.
The meeting was chaired by UNESCO Deputy Director-General, Getachew Engida, who declared the Holocaust "a dark heritage for humanity", thanking the student laureates for their dedication to its study.Alla Gerber responded, warning of growing xenophobia in Russia, "it was slogans like today's 'Russia for the Russians' that led to mass murder".
This years' keynote speakers were David Kessler, the Elysee Palace's Cultural Counsellor and Father Norbert Hofmann, Secretary of the Vatican Commission on Relations with the Jews.
Mr. Kessler focused on "the paradox of French history as both collaborator and resistance". He stressed the role of compensation,opening archives and education in accepting that history, speaking of his own work on the restitution process and quoting the title of Jacques Semelin's book "Neither Heroes nor Villians"
Father Hofmann named the Holocaust as "a neo-pagan device to wipe out the divine force from history", speaking of "Nostra Aetate as the Magna Carta of the Catholic church and the Jews," also addressing Catholic collaboration and resistance, and of the "passive spectators who kept their eyes closed". He elaborated on today's "binding commitment"of the Church to the Jews.The five winners and their papers were:
Ms. Nadiia Skokova, of the Ostroh National University of Ukraine,on "The Holocaust in Volhynia during the Nazi occupation"
Mr. Nikita Vrazovskiy, Russian State University for Humanities of Moscow,on "The Uprisings of the Warsaw and Bialystok Ghettoes"
Ms. Svetlana Antonova, Moscow State University,on"The Holocaust in Israeli media - A comparison between the Hebrew and Russian language press"
Ms. Vera Beletskaya, Moscow State Institute for Foreign Relations,on "The Holocaust and the Guilt Complex of the Germans"
Mr. Gukov Arsenii, Education-Science-Production Complex of Orel University,on "A Comparative Analysis of Holocaust Denial"The diplomats' responses included:-
- Hungary's Ambassador Katalin Bogyay, who is also President of the UNESCO General Conference, spoke of plans for the 2014 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews - and as a former journalist - "the challenges of engaging young people in this dialogue and forging new ways to teach the teachers ".
- German Ambassador, Michael Worbs, congratulated the Russian Holocaust Centre for its ""post-Soviet initiative to meet the past, not to repress it".
- Vatican Ambassador, Monsignor Follo, emphasised that "just to study the events of the Holocaust is not enough, one must apply the causes - we may know the dictum "thou shalt not steal, but still steal".
- United States Ambassador, David Killion, congratulated "the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for pushing UNESCO to be what it should be", adding,"we all bear collective guilt for slavery and not intervening quickly in the Holocaust and Rwanda".
Verbe et Lumiere-Vigliance President, Richard Odier, concluded the meeting in emphasising the obligation of the Holocaust to act as a call for activism in contemporary cases of mass murder, as in Darfur, Syria or regions where the media is absent
Dr. Altman and Dr. Samuels noted that "thousands of students over the past nine years from across Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltics have,through this programme, been sensitized to the history of the Holocaust, especially on the territory of the Soviet Union. With 45 winning essays and thousands of other submissions from Archangelsk to Vladivostok,they proposed that "for the tenth anniversary, this wealth of material be edited for a volume under UNESCO's auspices".Top row from left: Laureates, Russian and US delegates, Dr. Ilya Altman, Dr. Graciela Samuels, UNESCO, Fr. Norbert Hofmann, Paola Leoncini-Bartoli, UNESCO, Dr. S. Samuels
Bottom row from left: French delegate, David Kessler, Hungarian Ambassador, UNESCO Deputy Director-General Getachew Engida, Alla Gerber, Vatican delegate.