Yad Vashem ramping up effort to combat Holocaust denial

To demonstrate the creeping impact of Holocaust denial, Ephraim Kaye urges a simple Google search. Type in the word “Holocaust” and see what pops up.

“Of the first 60 hits, a third are of Holocaust deniers,” Kaye says. “It’s out there and we cannot stop it.”

Ephraim Kaye photo/cathleen maclearie

“We” is Yad Vashem, Israel’s venerated Holocaust museum, for which Kaye serves as director of international seminars. That makes him the institution’s top Holocaust educator.

Kaye, 58, was in the Bay Area this week lecturing about Holocaust denial and how to combat it. He spoke at Walnut Creek’s Congregation B’nai Shalom, among other places, on the scope of the problem, from the murderous views of Islamic radicals to the pseudo-academic claims of convicted Holocaust denier David Irving.

Because he is a teacher, Kaye quickly says that he is “an optimist.” He cites the thousands of teachers from around the world, Jewish and non-Jewish, his department has trained in Holocaust education.

He cites the international task force on Holocaust remembrance and education, which has partnered with Yad Vashem. The task force declared that the Holocaust should be taught in schools of the 26 affiliated nations.

And he cites the hundreds of Holocaust centers and museums around the world keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust and its victims.

Of course, the number of eyewitnesses to history’s greatest crime dwindles with each passing day. Kaye and his colleagues at Yad Vashem understand this very well.

“There is not a seminar at Yad Vashem where we do not incorporate Holocaust survivors,” he says. “We are rising to the challenge of what we are going to do” when there are no more survivors.

Part of the plan includes expanding the museum’s repository of testimonies — including partnering with Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, which has filmed thousands of survivors telling their stories.

Those testimonies are used to combat the relentless drumbeat of Holocaust denial, which has increased dramatically in Europe and throughout the Muslim world. Kaye says the advent of the Internet has spurred the spread of disinformation on the Holocaust.

As anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment spreads, a countervailing boost in Holocaust education has helped keep the hate in check, according to Kaye.

“With most historic events, the impact fades over time,” he says. “But there has been an inverse interest [in the Holocaust]. As the years go by, there is more interest.”

Kaye’s interest in the subject dawned years ago as he grew up in Newton, Mass. While still in high school, he spent a summer on a kibbutz near Haifa, where he fell in love with Israel. After high school, he enrolled at Hebrew University to study history. He became religiously observant, made aliyah and joined an elite unit in the Israeli military.

As a paratrooper, he saw action in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. From there he became a high school history teacher specializing in modern Jewish history and the Holocaust. It was a natural leap to go from the high school classroom to the greatest Holocaust education opportunity in the world at Yad Vashem, which he joined in 1988.

In addition to the world-famous museum at Yad Vashem, the campus houses an international school of Holocaust education. That’s been Kaye’s stomping grounds. He not only brings educators to Israel — teaching the teachers — but he travels the world, meeting with educators and shoring up Holocaust curriculum for K-12 and college classrooms.

Because he believes so strongly in the mission of Yad Vashem, Kaye takes personally the phrase “Never Again.” To articulate that, he likes to quote writer and survivor Elie Wiesel, who spoke at the 2005 opening of the new Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem.

Says Kaye: “Weisel said the Holocaust was not man’s inhumanity to man. It was man’s inhumanity to the Jews.”

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.