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The Europeanisation of the Holocaust memory in Eastern Europe

Final Report Summary - EURHOLMEM (The Europeanisation of the Holocaust memory in Eastern Europe)

The general objective of the project was to assess to what extent, how and why cosmopolitan and (West) European Holocaust memory has contributed to the development of Holocaust memory in Eastern Europe since 1989.

“The Holocaust” was understood as the persecution and murder of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. It took place largely in Eastern Europe and concerned mostly the Jews of Eastern Europe.
“Eastern Europe” (EE) was defined not only by the Holocaust. It was understood as the countries that were ruled by the communists between 1945 and 1989, and that have been integrating into the EU since the demise of communism. The project focused on the states that acceded to the European Union (EU) in 2004 and 2007.
“Memory” was approached from the perspective of cultural and social memory studies, focusing on the practices of remembrance and such mnemonic products as memorials and museums.
The “Europeanisation” of Holocaust memory was defined as the process of construction, institutionalisation and diffusion of beliefs regarding the Holocaust as well as formal and informal norms and rules regarding Holocaust remembrance and education. These beliefs, norms and rules have been first defined and consolidated at a European level and then incorporated in the practices of European countries.

The specific objectives of the project were three. Firstly, to assess how much indigenous (national, regional, local) and exogenous (cosmopolitan, [West] European) Holocaust memory there is in the EE countries. Secondly, to analyse the Europeanisation of Holocaust memories in the EE countries through international/European organisations: the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust; the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research (ITF), now called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA); the Council of Europe (CoE); the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE); and, particularly, the European Union (EU). Thirdly, to identify the causes of the slower development of Holocaust memory in EE than in the West (Western Europe, the USA, and Israel).

In order to achieve the objectives of the project, the following work was performed. For the first objective: (a) a comparative analysis of Holocaust remembrance in the EE countries in relation to Holocaust remembrance in the Western countries; (b) an ethnographic study of selected Holocaust memorials and museums in EE; and (c) an analysis of the available results of public opinion surveys concerning the Holocaust in the EE countries. For the second objective: (a) a comparative and diachronic analysis of the role played by the EU, primarily its parliament, the Stockholm Forum and the ITF/IHRA, the CoE, and the OSCE in the Europeanisation of Holocaust memory; (b) a comparative and diachronic analysis of the participation of the EE countries in the organisations contributing to the Europeanisation of Holocaust memory; (c) a study of pre- and post- EU enlargement debates on memory in the European Parliament (EP), particularly a qualitative analysis of resolutions and declarations adopted. For the third objective: (a) a review of the history of the EE countries in the 20th century, with particular reference to the Holocaust; (b) a study of the domestic politics of memory of the selected EE countries with regard to the Holocaust after 1989; and (c) an analysis of the activities of the EE members of the EP regarding memory and resulting documents.

The general finding of the project is that the cosmopolitan and (West) European memory of the Holocaust has contributed considerably to the development of Holocaust memory in EE since 1989.

Cosmopolitan Holocaust memory—deterritorialised, iconographic, decontextualised, and universalised—was a “negative frame of reference” for EE Holocaust memory that for historical reasons became territorial, tangible, contextual, and particular. European Holocaust memory—developed by the EP, the ITF/IHRA, the CoE, and the OSCE, and focusing on remembrance, education, and protection of Holocaust sites—was a “positive frame of reference” for the development of Holocaust memory in EE. The influence of European Holocaust memory is evident primarily in the Holocaust Remembrance Days and Holocaust educational programmes being instituted in nearly all EE countries. It is also manifested in the Holocaust memorials erected and Holocaust museums established across EE, for example in Bratislava, Bucharest, Budapest, Riga, Skopje, and Terezín (Theresienstadt). The high tide of these developments occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, that is when the cosmopolitanisation and Europeanisation of Holocaust memory reached their heights.

The development of Holocaust memory in EE in the late 1990s and 2000s may, to some degree, be interpreted as fulfilment of an unarticulated condition of EU accession (and NATO entry) by the EE states.

Holocaust memory in EE is a mixture of indigenous local, regional and national memories that developed mostly after 1989 and exogenous cosmopolitan and European memory. Some indigenous EE components have become parts of cosmopolitan and European Holocaust memory. The most significant example is the site and relics of the Auschwitz camp, where a memorial is located by which Holocaust commemorations are held. 27 January, the day Auschwitz was liberated in 1945, is observed annually as a European and international Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Europeanisation of Holocaust memory was begun by the EP in the mid-1990s. Since the late 1990s it has been reinforced by the ITF/IHRA. In the early 2000s the CoE, the OSCE, and even the UN contributed to the process, which spilt over from the EU and other Western countries to EE. The EP has addressed the EE countries regarding the Holocaust directly or indirectly since they became EU candidates. Most of these countries joined the ITF before EU accession, while a few did so thereafter. Their authorities endorsed the Holocaust remembrance decisions of the CoE, OSCE, and UN.

Holocaust memory hardly developed in EE between 1945 and 1989, including the 1970s and ‘80s, when the remarkable developments took place in the West. The main reason for the underdevelopment of Holocaust memory in EE was political: the communist rulers in the region did not want to distinguish the Jewish victims of the Second World War; the Holocaust did not fit into the communist vision of history. The wartime victims, who included Jews and far more non-Jews, were presented by the communists as citizens of various states.

Since the demise of communism, the EE countries have developed their national memories of the Holocaust being parts of European Holocaust memory. They have also developed the memory of communist crimes. The project found that the development of Holocaust memory in the EE countries in the late 1990s and 2000s was not slower than in the West European countries. It also found that the memory of the Holocaust and the memory of communist crimes are not competitive but complementary, both at a national level in EE and at a European level.

The results of this project contribute to a better understanding of the initial underdevelopment and final development of the memory of one of the most tragic chapters of human history in the area where that tragedy largely took place. They highlight the role of cosmopolitan and European Holocaust memory and transnational agents, including the EU and its parliament, in the memory developments in the region concerned.

Professor Marek Kucia,
Jagiellonian University,
Institute of Sociology,
ul. Grodzka 52,
31-044 Kraków,