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The U.S. Department of State has used the working definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion since its adoption by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2013.  It was adopted by consensus at the IHRA Plenary in Toronto as a non-legally binding “working definition.”  As a member of IHRA, the United States embraces this working definition and has encouraged other governments and international organizations to use it as well.

The working definition  was developed by IHRA experts in the Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial in cooperation with the IHRA’s governmental representatives for use as a practical working tool.  It laid the foundation for further IHRA resources on recognizing and countering Holocaust denial and distortion, including an action-oriented toolkit , the #ProtectTheFacts campaign , policy recommendations , a lecture  by former IHRA Honorary Chair Professor Yehuda Bauer, a short film , a publication , and a paper .

It has also inspired action outside the IHRA. The United Nation’s General Assembly, for example, made use of the working definition in its Resolution A/76/L.30 , which condemned denial and distortion of the Holocaust and commended the IHRA for its work. The resolution was adopted on 20 January 2022.

The Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion

Toronto, 10 October 2013

The present definition is an expression of the awareness that Holocaust denial and distortion have to be challenged and denounced nationally and internationally and need examination at a global level. IHRA hereby adopts the following legally non-binding working definition as its working tool.

Holocaust denial is discourse and propaganda that deny the historical reality and the extent of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II, known as the Holocaust or the Shoah. Holocaust denial refers specifically to any attempt to claim that the Holocaust/Shoah did not take place.

Holocaust denial may include publicly denying or calling into doubt the use of principal mechanisms of destruction (such as gas chambers, mass shooting, starvation and torture) or the intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people.

Holocaust denial in its various forms is an expression of antisemitism. The attempt to deny the genocide of the Jews is an effort to exonerate National Socialism and antisemitism from guilt or responsibility in the genocide of the Jewish people. Forms of Holocaust denial also include blaming the Jews for either exaggerating or creating the Shoah for political or financial gain as if the Shoah itself was the result of a conspiracy plotted by the Jews. In this, the goal is to make the Jews culpable and antisemitism once again legitimate.

The goals of Holocaust denial often are the rehabilitation of an explicit antisemitism and the promotion of political ideologies and conditions suitable for the advent of the very type of event it denies.

Distortion of the Holocaust refers, inter alia, to:

  1. Intentional efforts to excuse or minimize the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany;
  2. Gross minimization of the number of the victims of the Holocaust in contradiction to reliable sources;
  3. Attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide;
  4. Statements that cast the Holocaust as a positive historical event. Those statements are not Holocaust denial but are closely connected to it as a radical form of antisemitism.  They may suggest that the Holocaust did not go far enough in accomplishing its goal of “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question”;
  5. Attempts to blur the responsibility for the establishment of concentration and death camps devised and operated by Nazi Germany by putting blame on other nations or ethnic groups.

U.S. Department of State

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