From November 23 to 26, 2021, an international symposium titled Identifying and Countering Holocaust Distortion: Lessons for and from Southeast Asia was held via Zoom. It was organised by the NEVER AGAIN Association and supported by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Cambodia, the Balac Program at Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), and the American University of Phnom Penh (Cambodia).
The event lasted twenty-two hours over the four days. It involved over 1,200 registrants and 800 attendees from Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, as well as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Bangladesh, Poland and Germany. Although the event was presented primarily in English, simultaneous translations were also delivered in the Burmese, Khmer, and Thai languages. Thirty-one speakers and moderators participated in the event. These included scholars and civil society representatives from Southeast Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and beyond who specialise in a variety of subjects in Holocaust and genocide education, historical memory, and dealing with the past. They discussed the relevance of the European Holocaust for Southeast Asia.
The symposium was chaired by Professor Rafal Pankowski (Poland) who has knowledge and experience of working in genocide commemoration both in Central and Eastern Europe, and in Southeast Asia.
Keynote lectures were delivered by Professors Yehuda Bauer (Honorary Chairman to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and Academic Advisor to Yad Vashem) and Ben Kiernan (founder of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University). One of the architects of critical discourse analysis, Professor Teun van Djik, delivered a lecture on the technique as a method of studying the Holocaust, genocide denial and genocide distortion on day one of the symposium.
This symposium is part of the project Identifying and countering Holocaust distortion: Lessons for and from Southeast Asia. With its growing and diverse population, its own experience of the Second World War and its own instances of genocide and mass atrocities, Southeast Asia is a compelling region in which to hold such an event. The genocide targeted Jews and Roma particularly during the Second World War, but its significance is universal. Holocaust denial is a form of genocide denial which is dangerous across the world. There are numerous examples of Holocaust distortion in Southeast Asia. The project deals with various forms of Holocaust distortion and denial spread in the region of Southeast Asia, e.g., the usage of Nazi imagery, the normalisation of the image of Hitler and Nazi Germany in popular culture; conspiracy theories scapegoating minorities and blaming the victims (including the Jews) for past crimes and historical conflicts; the dangerous globalisation of genocide denial, including the rise of ‘multideniers’ who distort both the Nazi crimes and other cases of genocide, such as the crimes of the Khmer Rouge or anti-Rohingya violence. The project draws on the regional experiences of the Second World War and further instances of genocide in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Thailand to inspire critical memory discourses and develop capacities to counter Holocaust and genocide distortion in the region. The project’s audience is diverse; it includes opinion-makers and multipliers such as faith leaders, academics, the staff of museums and memorial sites, among others. The project’s activities include research, seminars, a digital exhibition, publications, and awareness raising through social media. The project’s idea comes from the region itself, and has been developed in cooperation with local supporters and partners of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association.
The project’s activities also include research, seminars, a digital exhibition, publications, and awareness raising through social media.
We wish to express our gratitude to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Heinrich Böll Stiftung Cambodia, the BALAC Program at Chulalongkorn University, and the American University of Phnom Penh (Cambodia) for their support of the symposium. Our appreciation goes to professors of the American University of Phnom Penh Raymond Leos and Theresa de Langis; GIZ Advisor to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia Barbara Thimm; Dr. Kunnaya Wimooktanon, Dr Verita Sriratana and Treepon Kirdnark of the Bachelor of Arts in Language and Culture program at the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University; and Professor Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem; Country Director of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Cambodia Paula Assubuji.
We also thank our wonderful volunteers who helped to organise the event: Visal Sorn (Cambodia), Samantha Moreno (Colombia), Alina Scheitza (Germany), Vitalii Boico (Moldova), Iwona Dettlaff (Poland), Rafal Maszkowski (Poland), Anna Tatar (Poland), Alena Fomenko (Russia), Venerable Lablu Barua (Thailand).