The international conference Aftermath: The Politics of Memory concluded this evening with a final keynote speech by Shoah Foundation director and Beth Shalom founder Dr. Stephen Smith who made repeated reference to the growing problem of Holocaust Obfuscation. His central point was the need for the history of the Holocaust to sensitize humanity, and indeed, western governments, to the need to care in real time about any subsequent genocide.
The conference program is here. More detailed information is available on the website of the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC) at Monash University in Melbourne.
The intensive two-day conference was conceived, planned and chaired by a team led by Professor Mark Baker, director of the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
Professor Baker managed to bring together vastly more diversity of background of scholars and activists than at analogous conferences elsewhere. He repeatedly succeeded in bringing to the fore difficult issues that could be debated in a fully frank and yet courteous spirit, in an intellectual center geographically far from the European arena.
Father Patrick Desbois, head of a remarkable project to visit numerous Holocaust sites in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and enable witnesses to tell what happened and lead the team to mass graves, was a major star of the event, which featured a photographic exhibit on loan from the Yahad-in-Unum foundation. He is the author of The Holocaust by Bullets.
The conference featured keynote speeches by Father Desbois and professors Jan T. Gross, Dovid Katz, Laura Levitt and Na’ama Sheffi, among others.
One of its features was a video-screen panel discussion between Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale, who was in Vienna, and an on-site conference panel comprising Father Desbois, Professor Gross and Professor Katz, focusing on issues raised in Professor Snyder’s 2010 book Bloodlands. Ably moderated by Professor Baker, a number of issues arising came to the fore without personal rancor. They included the current tendencies to omit from the narrative the massive collaboration and participation in the Holocaust by Baltic, Ukrainian and other East European ‘freedom forces’ and the concomitant tendency to omit the role of the USSR in the defeat of Hitler, and, of paramount moral significance, of providing frequently the only refuge throughout the Holocaust to its victims.
One of the conference’s dramatic moments came when Professor Konrad Kwiet (Macquarie University, Sydney and resident historian at the Sydney Jewish Museum) asked to come to the podium to announce his public resignation from the Lithuanian government sponsored International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithaunia.
The conference brought together scholars, writers and graduate students from the far corners of the earth. The group of young researchers introduced to the international scholarly world at the Aftermath conference included Kimberly Partee (Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts) who spoke on ‘Ordinary Women: Female Perpetrators of Genocide’, and Danielle Christmas (University of Illiniois, Chicago) whose topic was ‘Resituating Eichmann, Relocating Justice: Extra-Legal Theories of Justice in Holocaust Trial Films’.
The conference program (here) included significant emphasis on Australian aboriginal issues, on Rwanda and other genocides, and on the kinds of intellectual and political understanding that can help prevent future genocides or inspire earliest intervention from the outside world.