Conference Round-Up - Part Two

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Conference, Friday 6th November 2015
Budapest, Hungary

Participants and IHRA committee members at the conference

I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend the annual IHRA conference, this year in the beautiful capital city of Budapest. The chairmanship of the IHRA in Hungary has come at a significant time, when anti-Semitism - particularly of a verbal nature - has been growing in the country, as has the influence of far-right political parties such as Jobbik.
The title of the conference was 'The Holocaust in Public Discourse: Uses and Abuses'; the proceedings consisted of four panels, each chaired by a member of IHRA and including three experts. The topics discussed were print media and the Holocaust; popular media and the Holocaust; digital media and the Holocaust; and political discourse and the Holocaust. Those who presented came from both a wide variety of countries and organisations. Participants came from Hungary, Poland, Holland, the UK and even as far afield as Australia; university lecturers, journalists, researchers and campaigners were among those represented.
There was so much to pack into a relatively tight schedule that a lunchtime discussion also took place. This was, however, the highlight of the conference; alongside András Heisler, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, a keynote speech was given by the eminent Professor Yehuda Bauer, the Honorary Chairman of the IHRA. Bauer spoke of the need not simply to discuss the uses and abuses of the Holocaust in arenas such as the Internet, but to actively challenge them. He emphasised that, in the face of anti-Semitism, Jewish communities should not try to apologise for their efforts or highlight all the good that they do as this will simply encourage their critics to brand them as 'show-offs.' Instead, he stated, they must be shown where their thoughts are wrong and how they remain in the minority. I think we all left the conference feeling a little more empowered by his words, and the entire conference certainly gave us all a lot to think about.

A full summary of the conference can be accessed on the IHRA website, and you can even watch all the day's proceedings on the IHRA's YouTube channel.

8th Annual Holocaust Survivors' Conference, Watford Grammar School for Girls, Tuesday 10th November 2015
Watford, UK

One example of the artwork on display in the Sixth Form Centre

Despite this conference taking place for the eighth year running, it was also the first time that I had attended this unique event at Watford Grammar School for Girls, specifically aimed at pupils from this school and nearby institutions. Headmistress Dame Helen Hyde is a passionate advocate for Holocaust education, having lost three members of her familiy at Sobibór extermination camp. I was incredibly impressed by the educational displays in the corridors on the subject, and a fantastic art exhibition that was exhibited in the Sixth Form Centre.
Professor David Cesarani was meant to deliver the first lecture at this year's conference, but that sadly was not to be. Professor Tony Kushner from the University of Southampton and Dr Aimee Bunting, herself a teacher, instead delivered a lecture on Britain's involvement in the Holocaust in terms of the British POWs at Auschwitz and the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Their talk began, however, with a very moving tribute to Professor Cesarani, though it is sad to think that many students would not have been aware of the significance.
Afterwards, students were split into groups and sent to different classrooms to hear the testimony of a Holocaust survivor. 20 survivors were present to share their stories; I attended the talk given to Eva Clarke. Eva, who was born in Mauthausen concentration camp, has a tragic, remarkable family story that was once turned into a BBC documentary entitled 'The Baby Born in a Concentration Camp'.
Lunch was followed by a choice of workshops for students, focusing on topics as varied as art and the Holocaust; resistance; Judaism and faith after the Holocaust; photography; and psychology. The last presentation of the day was given by Paul Salmons from the Institute of Education, who discussed the importance of primary sources in studying the Holocaust, written by both perpetrators and victims.
I hope that the students realised what an incredible opportunity they had been given, to listen to a survivor of the Holocaust in a small group and have the chance to have a proper conversation with them. I know I feel so privileged every time I meet and talk to them - this time, I even promised Ben Helfgott that I would start taking up the gym soon! I can also only hope that there will still be many survivors among us for next year's conference.