Thursday, Jun 9 – Sunday, Jun 12, 2022
Ort: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10, Berlin-Tiergarten

Hijacking Memory
The Holocaust and the New Right

International Conference

Conceived by Emily Dische-Becker, Berlin; Susan Neiman, Potsdam; Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, Berlin
with Gilbert Achcar, London; René Aguigah, Berlin; Tareq Baconi, London; Omer Bartov, Providence; Peter Beinart, New York; Hannah Black, New York; Omri Boehm, New York; Mykola Borovyk, Frankenberg; Avrum Burg, Jerusalem; Dany Cohn-Bendit, Frankfurt am Main; Joseph Croitoru, Freiburg i.Br.; David Feldman, London; Alexander Friedman, Saarbrücken; Konstanty Gebert, Warsaw; Sander Gilman, Atlanta; Lewis Gordon, Mansfield; Jan Grabowski, Ottawa; Lutz Hachmeister, Berlin; Daniel Kahn, Hamburg; Volkhard Knigge, Jena; Nikolay Koposov, Atlanta; Yeva Lapsker, Hamburg; Hanno Loewy, Hohenems; Eva Menasse, Berlin; Andrea Pető, Budapest; Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, Evanston; Diana Pinto, Paris; Valentina Pisanty, Bergamo; Ben Ratskoff, Los Angeles; Susanne Rohr, Hamburg; Eran Schaerf, Berlin; Rachel Shabi, London; Jelena Subotić, Atlanta; Ksenia Svetlova, Jerusalem; Hannah Tzuberi, Berlin; Alexander Verkhovsky, Moscow; Lothar Zechlin, Duisburg

Holocaust commemoration is commonly seen as a crucial way to prevent the resurgence of nationalism and the persecution of minorities anywhere. In the course of the postwar era, remembering the genocide of European Jews became a standard for a politics of universal human rights. In recent years, however, a troubling development has taken place: platitudes of remembrance are uttered by the very same actors who espouse anti-democratic, xenophobic and often antisemitic agendas. At first, this process has been most visible in Trump’s America, today Putin’s call for the “Denazification of Ukraine” is the latest example. But this process is also evident in Hungary, Poland, Israel, England, France, Austria and in Germany. What is the relationship between the ritualization of Holocaust remembrance and the rise of the far-right? This conference will explore the hijacking of Holocaust memory by right-wing forces and examine ways to confront it.

Veranstaltung in englischer und deutscher Sprache mit Simultanübersetzung
German and English talks will be simultaneously translated

Watch the videos of the talks by clicking on the title!


Thursday, June 9, 2022

3 pm
Welcome & Introduction
Emily Dische-Becker, Susan Neiman, Stefanie Schüler-Springorum
In German and English

3.30–5 pm
Who are the Nazis; who are the Jews? The Holocaust in the NOW
Sander L. Gilman

Is the refunctioning of the Holocaust unique or is it simply that the passage of chronological time blurs the edges of every historical event? The experiences of the immediate past, of NOW, the age of Trump and Putin, the global pandemic, all seem to warrant a specific explanation. Not only of how the Holocaust is being refunctioned but why now; why its centrality in the context of a resurgent nationalism, populism, and, yes, the concomitant anti-Jewish sentiment. Are social media at the core of this or are they simply a vehicle for its increased dissemination? When rightwing protestors at the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, simultaneously denied the reality of the Holocaust and wished that more Jews are been murdered during it, we are indeed presented with a social reality that needs both granular description as well as theoretical consideration.

What Went Wrong? The Politics of Memory and the Return of the Xenophobic Right
Valentina Pisanty

Two facts are there for all to see: In the last decades the Shoa has been the object of widespread commemorative activities throughout the Global North. In the same lapse of time intolerance and racism have increased dramatically. Are these facts unrelated, or is there a connection? How can societies combat the current waves of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia? And what does it take to investigate the reasons for the failure of contemporary memory culture to fulfil its universalistic pledge, based on the simplistic equation Never Forget = Never Again?

Lectures, followed by a conversation, moderated by Emily Dische-Becker
In English
5.30 pm
Bernd Scherer
In German
5.45 pm
Wir sind alle deutsche Juden
R: Niko Apel, Drehbuch: Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Frankreich 2020, 78 min
Filmscreening, followed by a discussion with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, moderated by Susan Neiman
In German

“I’m a Jew. What does that mean?” Daniel Cohn-Bendit asks himself in this film full of encounters. He sets off for Israel and begins a personal search for his own Jewishness. The people and places that he encounters on his journey could hardly be more different, yet the discussion always revolves around the central question of this film: What is “Jewish identity”? On his journey, he is repeatedly forced to reexamine his relationship to his own Jewishness. Cohn-Bendit talks with liberal and ultra-pious Jews, with a settler in the West Bank, a Palestinian in East Jerusalem and even with an ex-intelligence chief who is critical of the occupation and who admits that if he were a Palestinian, he would take up arms.


Friday, June 10

10–11.30 am
Von der Verleugnung des Holocaust zum Bekennen. Über Rechte in KZ-Gedenkstätten und Erinnerungskultur

Volkhard Knigge

Desiring Victimhood: German Self-Formation and the Figure of the Jew
Hannah Tzuberi

How did victimhood become a desirable resource in contemporary negotiations of transhistorical justice and memory politics? Its recognition, associated in post-1989 Germany primarily with the figure of the Jew, became a focal point of democratic, collective self-formation: The “new Germany” established itself as a fully sovereign, stable member of the league of civilized nations through institutionalizing the memory of the Holocaust as its (post-)national foundation and identifying the figure of the Jew as a primary victim. Which are the political and epistemological premises and power effects of an understanding of justice premised on the recognition of victimhood? How do processes of post-genocidal nation-building that are premised on identification with the figure of the victim feed into the ongoing regulation and problematization of those subjects and forms of life that contest the figure of the victim?

Lectures, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Stefanie Schüler-Springorum
In German and English
11.30 am–1 pm
Der Holocaust und die deutschen Leitmedien nach 1945
Lutz Hachmeister

Mit Lippenbekenntnissen dem Konsens hinterher: Wie die AfD über Holocaust, Juden und Israel spricht – und schweigt
Joseph Croitoru
Lectures, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Stefanie Schüler-Springorum
In German
2.30 pm
Anti-Zionism Can Be Anti-Semitic. Zionism Too

Conversation with Peter Beinart and Daniel Cohn-Bendit
In English

There is no necessary connection between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, either theoretically or empirically. In fact, in the US the evidence suggests that if you measure antisemitism by traditional criteria, Zionists are probably more likely to hold antisemitic views than anti-Zionists. That’s not surprising. If you don’t like the Jews in your country, it’s useful for them to have their own country. And if you believe in legalized privilege for a dominant ethnic, religious or racial group over the other people with whom they share a country, you may find Jews in your country problematic – since as a minority they often oppose such legalized discrimination. But you may admire Israel because it offers a model of how such hierarchies can be enshrined into law. This helps to explain why so many far-right leaders find it entirely consistent to traffic in domestic antisemitism and lionize Israel at the same time.
3.30–4.45 pm
American Israels: Christian Zionism in Comparative-Historical Perspective
Philip Gorski

American identity has always been deeply entangled with various visions of the Biblical Israel. Today, it is also entangled with support for the State of Israel. For many, conservative, white Protestants, this entanglement takes the form of “Christian Zionism” rooted expectations about Israel’s role in the Biblical “End Times” and mundane expectations about this-worldly “blessings” and prosperity. The Christian Zionist movement is now garnering support from Black and Latino evangelicals and Pentecostals and is spreading to other regions of the world.

Hijacking Holocaust Memory as a Dehumanizing Practice
Lewis R. Gordon

The right is marked by a tendency to cherry-pick the past in a project of avowed order and security, which belies truth. This often includes rewriting locations of harm to rally resources of supposed “protection.” The result is an investment in pleasing falsehoods that eliminate distinctions and difference. This, thus, elides the nuance, precision, and uncomfortable truths of Holocaust memory in directions of either extreme particularity (which absolutizes it) or exaggerated metonymy and metaphor (which trivializes it). Both are dehumanizing. Further, they lead to constructions of innocence under liberal, neoliberal, and neoconservative models of political membership premised on a duality of victimizers and victims, in which there is little room for being neither and only room for innocence among those who are harmed.

Lectures, followed by a Q&A, moderated by Susan Neiman
In English
5.15–6.30 pm
James Baldwin and the Politics of Holocaust Exceptionalism
Ben Ratskoff

Recent debates about contemporary racism and national memorial cultures, instigated in part by global movements against anti-Black policing, have put pressure on both the historiographic assertion of the Holocaust’s fundamental difference from other forms of racial violence and the ritualization of Holocaust remembrance. James Baldwin’s protracted and ambivalent engagement with the role of the Holocaust in postwar anti-racist politics, and especially in the struggle against anti-Black racism in the United States, clarifies how Holocaust history and memory can, in their dominant and institutionalized forms, work to neuter anti-racist militancy and maintain the status quo.

Baldwin, BLM, and “Black Antisemitism”

The uprisings following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 represented the most salient movement for racial justice in the US in a generation. The anti-police orientation of the uprisings, their explicit solidarity with Palestinian movements, and the increase in anti-Jewish violence in general in the past half decade has renewed interest in the history of Black-Jewish anti-racist solidarity and its tensions. That complicated history is frequently cheapened into a triumphalist liberal fantasy or exploited to revive the chimera of so-called “Black antisemitism.” In an intellectual environment where anti-racist movements and postcolonial studies are routinely accused of triviliazing antisemitism and worse, James Baldwin’s seminal 1967 essay on antisemitism and racism might provide a prescient resource for tracing the complex relations between anti-Black dispossession and antisemitism, anti-Blackness, whiteness, and Christendom. While flaming fears between Jewish and Black minorities has been a staple of American politics after the civil rights movement, it is also a tactic increasingly employed in German discourse.

Ddiscussion with Ben Ratskoff, Hannah Black, René Aguigah, moderated by Emily Dische-Becker
In English
6.45 pm
R: Julia Bacha, Produzent*innen: Suhad Babaa, Daniel J. Chalfen, USA 2021, 70 min, English OV with English subtitles
Filmscreening, followed by a discussion with Suhad Babaa, Peter Beinart, Lothar Zechlin
In German and English

When a news publisher in Arkansas, an attorney in Arizona, and a speech therapist in Texas are told they must choose between their jobs and their political beliefs, they launch legal battles that expose an attack on freedom of speech across 33 states in America.
Boycott traces the impact of state legislation designed to penalize individuals and companies that choose to boycott Israel due to its human rights record. A legal thriller with “accidental plaintiffs” at the center of the story, Boycott is a bracing look at the far-reaching implications of anti-boycott legislation and an inspiring tale of everyday Americans standing up to protect our rights in an age of shifting politics and threats to freedom of speech.


Saturday, June 11

10 am–12.15 pm
The Hidden Agenda: The Holocaust in Israel between Tragedy and Strategy
Avraham Burg

In the first decades of its existence, the State of Israel did not identify with the Holocaust. Indeed, as Tom Segev and other historians have shown, the Holocaust was in conflict with the image the State wanted to convey: that Jews were finally agents of history and not its subjects, heroes rather than victims. Only later did certain Israeli politicians decide it was opportune to underscore the Holocaust as the prime example of murderous antisemitism in order to discredit all criticism of state policies as antisemitic. This lecture will describe the history of the deliberate strategies involved in this process.

Holocaust Singularity and German National Identity
Omri Boehm

To understand the current controversies about the Holocaust’s singularity, it is necessary to understand the original debate from the 1980ies. Contrary to common opinion, the Historikerstreit did not revolve on the question of the Holocaust’s singularity; it revolved on the question of German national identity. Understanding Auschwitz as a singular crime was deemed necessary by Habermas et al. to oppose the rehabilitation of German national consciousness as the origin of political norms – and replace it by constitutional patriotism. Considering the Bundestag’s BDS Beschluss, the government’s relation to the International Criminal Court and the response to Amnesty International in the aftermath of the apartheid report, Boehm argues that the singularity thesis has been hijacked to defend what originally it was supposed to oppose: it rehabilitates German National consciousness at the expense of constitutional patriotism.

Antisemitism in History and Politics
Omer Bartov

Antisemitism can only be understood by tracing its deep historical roots, as well as its modern transformation. And because antisemitic arguments have always been answered by counterarguments, anti-antisemitism has a similarly extended and multifaceted history. Hence, over time, both have meant different things to different people, have been repeatedly mobilized for political ends, and have become dependent on one another. Long before the term antisemitism was coined, anti-Jewish animus played a role in how Jews were perceived by others, and how Jews interacted with the world and perceived themselves. Conversely, anti-antisemitic rhetoric gains public attention and visibility whenever it persuades the public that antisemitism is a real and present danger.

Lectures, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Susan Neiman
In English

1.45–3.15 pm
Palestine and Holocaust Memory Politics
Tareq Baconi

The talk will explore how the memory of the Holocaust is being deployed to expand Israel’s colonization of Palestine, including but not solely through the weaponization of charges of anti-Semitism to dismantle the movement for Palestinian rights.

British Jews and the Psychodrama of the Corbyn Years
Rachel Shabi

In the midst of the 2019 general election campaign, the UK’s chief rabbi declared the then Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had allowed a “poison sanctioned from the top” to take root in the party. Making a rare intervention in politics, Ephraim Mirvis, who represents 62 of the UK’s Orthodox synagogues, castigated Corbyn’s “utterly inadequate” response to the party’s antisemitism crisis and asked people to “vote with their conscience” – in other words: not Labour. How had it come to this? Let’s take a tour of the Corbyn years and how antisemitism played out in British politics: a series of allegations and evasions, escalations and denials. Shabi argues that this crisis weakened an understanding of antisemitism, fractured solidary in fighting all forms of racism and makes it harder to talk about the Palestinian cause.

Lecture, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Daniel Levy
In English

3.45–5.45 pm
Hijacked from the Centre: Holocaust Memory in Britain
David Feldman

Forty years ago, the British government led by Margaret Thatcher was indifferent when the Board of Deputies of British Jews proposed erecting a Holocaust memorial on the parliamentary estate. It had nothing to do with Britain, according to the foreign secretary, Lord Carrington. Today, by contrast, the Conservative government, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are all committed to building a Holocaust memorial next to Parliament. Moreover, the Holocaust is the only compulsory subject in the history national curriculum for pupils aged 13 to 14. Feldman will explore and explain this transformation in the status of Holocaust memory: Why it is that at a time when anti-racism divides the public sphere in Britain, the struggle against antisemitism unites the political class as little else?

Whitening of the Jews and Misuse of Holocaust Memory
Gilbert Achcar

“Antisemitism” was originally coined to relegate the European Jews to a non-white status. It was linked to the inflow of Eastern European Jews into Western countries in the late 19th century. While the defeat of Nazism favoured the gradual (re)whitening of European Jews after 1945, the rise of anticolonial struggles and the inflow into Western countries of Muslim migrants determined a shift in xenophobia and racism, supported by the Zionist far right. There has been a reorientation of Western racism involving its own whitening of European Jews to pervert the Holocaust legacy into an ideological weapon that could be instrumentalised for its anti-Muslim agenda.

Dubious Benevolence: The Holocaust and the Extreme Right in France and Italy
Diana Pinto

What are we to make of Holocaust remembrance and commemoration by Europe’s extreme rights in today’s topsy-turvy world? Who is hijacking whom? Does it still make sense to view the Holocaust in terms of left-right wing divides? What is one to make of Jewish (and Israeli) support for these illiberal movements? On these counts, France and Italy offer two interesting examples of how the extreme rights have “adopted” generic Holocaust commemoration while still honoring their fascist ancestors and pursuing their own present-day racist programs. In their use of shocking equivalences, their rereading of the fate of the Jews in World War II, they can be seen as precursors for Putin’s own “anti-Nazi” war against Ukraine, one of the most sensitive territories in which the Holocaust unfolded.
Lectures, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Carinne Luck
In English
6.15 pm
Sentiment, Seduction, Soreness: Countering the Right with Holocaust Comedy
Susanne Rohr

In her talk, Susanne Rohr will examine the latest developments in a highly sensitive genre, a genre the philosopher Slavoj Žižek has termed “camp comedy” or “Holocaust comedy.” What are the consequences of a substantial breach in taboo within artistic practice? Does the initial breach create a compulsion to continually push the taboo boundaries, to out-perform the taboo as it were, or does the perceived provocation initiate a desire and movement towards reconciliation, or placidity? These are some of the questions Susanne Rohr will address in the context of resurging right-wing extremism around the world.

Lecture followed by a Q&A, moderiert von Miriam Rürup
In English
7–8 pm
Andere (Täter-)Länder, andere Sitten?
Conversation with Hanno Loewy und Eva Menasse
In German
9 pm
Daniel Kahn & Yeva Lapsker

The Detroit-born troubadour performs a radical program of songs new and old, smuggled across the borders of Yiddish, English, Russian, German, past and future. A contemporary collection of brittle ballads, warped klezmer, prison laments, revolutionary anthems and apocalyptic blues. The program is accompanied and embellished by projected images and surtitles by video artist and translator Yeva Lapsker.

Sunday, June 12

10 am–12.45 pm
Appropriation of the Holocaust by the Eastern European Far Right
Jelena Subotić

Focusing on post-communist Eastern Europe, Subotić demonstrates how the familiar narratives and images of the Holocaust have been appropriated by the East European far right for two main political goals. First, Holocaust narrative and visual repertoire is used to elevate the suffering of non-Jewish national majorities in recent and distant past and equate this suffering with the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust. Second, it is used to reposition the crimes of communism as the dominant criminal legacy of the 20th century on par with, and sometimes overtaking, the legacy of the Holocaust. This appropriation of the Holocaust is important for contemporary global politics as it provides political legitimacy for far right movements, which base their popular support on continuing cycles of national grievance and resentment.

Illiberal Memory Politics of the Holocaust in Hungary
Andrea Pető

In the past few years, Hungary has been portrayed as a negative example of memory politics in both mainstream and academic press. It was charged with being the “ground zero” for a paradigm change in World War II memory politics that was echoed in Poland when the right-wing populist PiS government passed its infamous law on criminalizing certain perspectives in historical research. The elements of this paradigm change include the nationalization of a hitherto transnational narrative, de-Judaization, competing victimhood, establishing new terminology, double speech, and anti-intellectualism. The talk discusses examples of how this new Holocaust memory paradigm is created in cooperation with international institutional actors and the academic community in Hungary. It also analyses the impacts of the war of Russia against Ukraine on the illiberal Holocaust narrative.

Empty Symbols: The Memory of the Holocaust in Fascist Russia
Nikolay Koposov

Most authoritarian regimes and populist parties today claim they are committed to democratic values. On the one hand, this testifies to a world-wide triumph of democracy. On the other, however, the use of democratic concepts and symbols by the authoritarians and populists is no innocent operation. It depreciates these concepts and symbols and transforms them into empty signs. In which ways does Putin’s propaganda deprive notions and symbols of the democratic culture of memory of their true sense and transform them into empty signs?

Lectures, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Mischa Gabowitsch
In English
2.15–5 pm
Russische Propaganda: Instrumentalisierung des Völkermords bei dem Angriff auf Ukraine
Mykola Borovyk

The Misuse of the Holocaust and the Fluid Russian Nationalism Today
Alexander Verkhovsky

What is worth discussing at the time of war? Verkhovsky first addresses some quantitative changes in the manifestations of anti-Semitism in Russia since 2014. Second, he looks at the changes in the way the Holocaust theme has been instrumentalized for the needs of state propaganda after February 24, 2022. And third, he describes a more complex attitude towards the prosecution for Holocaust denial in Russia’s liberal circles, which has to do with the Russian anti-extremism law enforcement practice.

Unholy Alliance: Israel and the Far-Right in Europe
Ksenia Svetlova
Lectures, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Mischa Gabowitsch
In German and English
5.30–7 pm
Hijacking Memory of the Holocaust: From Treblinka, Through Auschwitz to the Warsaw Ghetto
Jan Grabowski

The distortion of the history of the Holocaust has become, over the years, an unstated policy of the agencies of the Polish state and various institutions serving as its proxies. One of the aspects of this policy is an attempt to “de-Judaize” the memory of the event, or to weaken or remove the Jewish presence from the historical account. In Poland, today, it is being done in a variety of ways: shifting focus from Jewish victims to righteous gentiles, or appropriating spaces originally devoted to the Jewish suffering. The process of falsification and distortion of the history of the Shoah is best seen today in places of Jewish memory such as Treblinka, Auschwitz, or the area of the former Warsaw ghetto.

How the Polish Right is Rewriting the History of the Shoah
Konstanty Gebert

Since 2016, there has been a major reversal in the way the history of the Shoah in Poland is being presented in official discourse. The concept of Polish participation in the Shoah is being rejected as slanderous, while the efforts of Polish Righteous are being presented as typical for Polish society at the time. Vast public funds are being invested in this effort, which has been endorsed by leading political personalities, while academic and law enforcement repression is directed at critics. This is combined with a sustained campaign of refusing to provide property restitution to victims of the Shoah and their descendants. These processes make historical distortion official Polish policy.

Lectures, followed by a discussion and Q&A, moderated by Susan Neiman
In English
7 pm
Blinded in Remembering the Present? Ask Franz
Eran Schaerf
Lecture Performance
In English

One day Andreas appears in my life – as novel characters tend to do – and tells me about the difference between remembering and commemorating. When he visits a memorial site, he understands that he cannot take any memories from the former concentration camp with him. That time is over, but he can commemorate history without any memories of his own. He seems to come from a time when the national political currency of memory is not yet for sale. I think Andreas must know Franz, who wrote about the Armenian genocide. Franz is from a different time, I know that. I borrow from Suchan her clockworks to rehearse the multi-chronology of my story.

Eine Gemeinschaftsveranstaltung mit dem Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, und dem Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung, Berlin