"Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and for the Prevention of Crimes against Humanity"

The historical background:

Since the signing of the Treaty of London, the Council of Europe, which emerged from the ruins of the Second World War, has defined its fundamental objectives with a view to countering the totalitarian ideaologies that dominated the first half of the 20th century and their corollaries: intolerance, separation, exclusion, hatred and discrimination. In reaction to the breakdown in civilisation caused by the barbarism of th Nazis, the Council of Europe had invoked the "preservation of human society and civilisation". The values which the Council of Europe stands for : democracy, respect for human rights and the importance of the rule of law, are part of a preventive post-Holocaust effort which guarantees the construction of a European society striving to learn to respect the equal dignity of all, thanks to, among other things, intercultural dialogue.

The 1954 European Cultural Convention highlights the need to study the history of each member State so as to improve mutual understanding, for the Holocaust is a European heritage which has common roots in the european nations, and there is a European responsibility that should be accepted.

The activities of the Council of Europe with regard to remembrance teaching are defined in Recommendation Rec(2001)15, on “History teaching in twenty-first century Europe”, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 31 October 2001 at the 771st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies.

Concept and objectives:

On the basis of the “Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and for the Prevention of Crimes against Humanity”, the aim is to develop and firmly establish the teaching of this subject in Europe.

The preventive dimension of the “Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust” is evident not only from its title but also from the first sentence of the relevant section of the recommendation: “everything possible should be done in the educational sphere to prevent recurrence or denial of the devastating events that have marked this century, namely the Holocaust, genocides and other crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and the massive violations of human rights and of the fundamental values to which the Council of Europe is particularly committed”.

The specifics:

The Holocaust is regarded as a paradigm for every kind of human rights violation and crime against humanity; all victims are taken into consideration.

  • The teaching rather than the commemorative dimension (educational action);
  • The preventive dimension (the Council of Europe was the first international organisation to link remembrance teaching with preventing crimes against humanity);
  • The regional and national dimension (each member State chooses a date that corresponds with its national history; the teachers are then encouraged to develop their teaching material on the basis of local history so that pupils are aware that it is their own cultural heritage which is being referred to);
  • The interdisciplinary dimension, which is intrinsic to the approach to the prevention of crimes against humanity (history but also literature, psychology, civic education, art, language, biology, physics and sport);
  • The taking into account of all victims of crimes against humanity through study of the paradigm of the Holocaust (Jews, Roma, Resistance members, politicians, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled persons).