Saturday, June 17, 2006

The First International Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide in 1982 – From the Family "Archive"

The two Clippings from Ha'aretz, June 25.1982

Twenty-four years ago, my mother somehow found the time to clip and annotate the article and letter to the editor above from the June 25, 1982 edition of Ha’aretz, in between taking care of three very young and unruly children – my twin-brother and I had just turned two, my sister was only four months old. My parents and I discovered the clippings by chance today while looking through an old book in the house.

(For those who are interested in details – the book was Haim Rabin’s עיקרי תולדות הלשון העברית, The Fundamentals of the History of the Hebrew Language).

I’ve decided to translate the letters here, because they concern a historical event of great relevance to this blog. That event, the First International Conference on the Shoah and Genocide was supposed to have taken place at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Yitzhak Arad, then director of Yad Vashem, Gideon Hausner, the attorney general of Israel who prosecuted Eichmann, and Elie Wiesel, were all set to speak. Overall, 150 lectures were to be held, six of them on the Armenian Genocide. But after Turkish pressure on Israel, and, as a result, heavy pressure exerted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry on conference organizers and participants, the conference was held in Tel Aviv with only 300 out of the original 600 researchers participating. Important institutions and individuals withdrew their backing of the event, including Yad Vashem (Yair Auron, The Banality of Denial, 217-219). Paradoxically enough, however, the controversy surrounding the conference actually drew attention to the recognition cause, especially since the lectures on the Armenian Genocide were in fact delivered (Auron, Banality of Indifference, 354).

TOP DOCUMENT: “Limited Participation at the International Conference on the Shoah and Genocide” (JUNE 25, 1982)

"Following the complaint by Turkey, there are fears that Jews [in Turkey] would be harmed if the subject of the Armenian Shoah is discussed"
By Yehudit Winkler, Ha’aretz Writer

The International Conference on the Shoah and Genocide opened on Monday at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv without Elie Wiesel and on a smaller scale than anticipated by its organizers after the Foreign Ministry exerted heavy pressure to cancel the conference.

The opposition by the Foreign Ministry escalated due to fears that essential national interests and perhaps also Jewish communities abroad would be harmed because one of the subjects of discussion at the conference is the Armenian shoah [sic] of 1915. The government of Turkey protested about this to the Foreign Ministry and raised the concern that Jewish communities might be hurt.

The writer Elie Wiesel, who was supposed to have been the keynote speaker at the conference, announced his resignation, at the same time as he emphasized his identification with the goals of the conference which he helped plan. He said that he could not go against any request from the state of Israel if behind it stood the possibility of any danger whatsoever to the lives of Jews. Mr. Wiesel requested that the conference be held abroad.

Conference organizers estimated that only 500 people (half of the expected number)would take part. The organizers reported that cancellations by participants were substantial among Israeli scholars as well as researchers from abroad, and that the pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry was leaving its mark on the scale of the conference, although the program content had not changed.

Over the four days of the conference, lectures and seminar discussions will take place on different aspects of genocide.

BOTTOM DOCUMENT: Letter to the Editor, “Conspiracy of Silence”

The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel proclaims that the government guarantees “freedom of religion, conscience, education, and culture.” The international conference taking place now (in the Tel Aviv Hilton) on the Shoah and genocide with the aim of understanding of, intervention in, and prevention of genocide, was planned by a group of devoted people and fits the spirit of that declaration cited above perfectly.

During the planning process which began three years ago, it came to the Turkish government’s attention that the Armenian genocide would also be discussed at the conference. We are overcome with feelings of horror and incredulity that the government of Israel bowed to the

Turkish pressure not to support and not to formally recognize this conference. In addition to this, the Israeli government influenced many prominent personalities known the world over, who are connected to research on the Shoah, to prevent their participation in and support of the conference.

The undersigned express their outrage and anguish, and are very concerned by this development, which reminds us of the conspiracy of silence that begot the Shoah. This development fundamentally contradicts the essential principles on which this country was founded.

Leni Fortes and 26 signatories
Kfar Saba

Note on the Translation of Some Key Terms

The Hebrew word שואה (shoah) literally means “disaster” or “holocaust.” Like the latter English word, it has come to refer to the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis and their allies during WWII. The English word is usually capitalized to make that meaning clear. However, the Hebrew word Shoah has also entered the English language. The reasons for this are complicated and merit a separate post.

What struck me in the 1982 article was how the writer employed the Hebrew word shoah. In English, Shoah (capitalized) usually refers exclusively to the genocide of the Jews. It has thus been criticized by a number of scholars for its exclusivity, as well as on other grounds. Interestingly enough, however, as the top article shows, Hebrew-speakers use the word to denote other genocides as well. Thus, the first article matter-of-factly refers to the “Armenian shoah,” despite the fact that a Hebrew word for genocide exists. That word, רצח עם, literally means “murder of a people” (i.e., genocide – a word which combines a Greek and a Latin derivative). Perhaps the closest parallel is the German “Völkermord.” The title of the conference in Hebrew uses both the word shoah as well as the word for genocide. In English, it has often been translated as the conference on “the Holocaust and genocide.” But the writer above interpreted the two words as synonyms. The writer of the letter uses a different Hebrew term, השמד עם, which literally translated means “extermination of a people.”


The government of Turkey as well as representatives of Turkish Jewry denied that there had been any threats against the country’s Jewish community. But Auron cites Monroe H. Freedman, a counselor for the US Holocaust Memorial Council, who told the NYT that a Turkish diplomat had threatened the safety of Jews in Turkey as well as the country’s withdrawal from NATO if the fate of Armenians was included in the proposed Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC (The Banality of Denial, 221).


J. said...

Wow, how low could they have stooped? I cannot believe that the Turkish government would have threatened local Jewish communities? I would have thought that the threat of cutting military cooperation with Israel would have sufficed. I thought that the concern for the safety of Jews might have been just a pretext to justify blocking the conference. It's certainly more convincing than the more cynical strategic calculations of the Foreign Ministry.

Amos said...

The Turkish government denied that they issued any such threats. I think we won't know for sure without some other documentary evidence.