Simon Schama this week warned of the “universal human urgency” of combating Holocaust denial during a commemorative event in central London.
The historian argued that visiting concentrations camps, and use of social media, documentaries and live events, was crucial to keep young people engaged and interested in the Shoah.
He told the 400-strong audience at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue that Hol-o-caust relativisation was not a significant issue compared with the “severe problem” of the Holocaust being “casually equated” with anti-Zionism, particularly on university campuses.
He was joined by the filmmaker Andre Singer during the event, which was hosted by JRoots to raise awareness and support for the charity’s work in combating Holocaust denial. Singer, director of the Emmy award-winning documentary Night Will Fall, described sifting through original footage of concentration camps being liberated.
“I thought I knew something about the Holocaust, but when I saw the footage I realised
I didn’t. It was a shocking and traumatic experience,” Singer said. “At that stage, I realised we needed to do something to shock others using the power of a documentary.”
The pair, alongside JRoots co-founder Tzvi Sperber, also discussed the importance of empirical evidence in the digital age. Schama argued that we are now living in an “empire of lies”, in which truth itself “cannot be taken for granted”, and warned that the web was a “perfect nest of fantasy with communities who are nourished by the mutual supply of lies”.
He encouraged the audience to spread the empirical truth of the Holocaust to the world.
During the evening the premiere was screened of a biopic about Auschwitz survivor Leslie Kleinman, entitled #8230 A Legacy of Love, and a short film by JRoots about Holocaust denial on social media feeds.
JRoots co-founder Rabbi Naftali Schiff said the organisation was dedicated to giving young Jews the “experience, facts and desire to take up this critical fight against Holocaust denial into the post-survivor generation”.
Schama concluded the discussion with a quote from Night Will Fall: “The line between humanity and bestiality all over the world
is much thinner than we think. This is what so-called humans can do to another human. This is everyone’s cause.”