The Abuse of Holocaust Memory Chapter Ten: The Importance of Apologies

In the struggle against Holocaust distorters, particular attention should be given to the  official  apologies  by  nations  and  institutions  that  were  perpetrators, accomplices, or bystanders in the Holocaust. A few examples will illustrate their importance.

Apologies to a large extent bring closure to part of the debate. Those who represent the ones who committed crimes against humanity, collaborated, or were negligent on the one hand, and those who represent the victims on the other, have jointly agreed on their interpretation of part of the past. Apologies for past injustice remain important for future generations in particular if made by governments and parliaments, as one can refer to them in future debates.

Such steps are often also accompanied by additional documentation on prewar, wartime, and postwar failures. These documents will remain as well for future generations, after all survivors have passed away.1 Although official admissions of a nation’s Holocaust crimes or shortcomings are also important, apologies lend even greater emphasis to such confessions.


Several declarations of former Austrian leaders, such as Prime Ministers Franz Vranitzky2 and Victor Klima3 as well as President Thomas Klestil,4 reveal the paradigmatic sequence of apologies for prewar, wartime, and postwar failures: relating the facts, explaining who failed, taking responsibility for the failures, apologizing and stating that these apologies are belated, analyzing what risks the past derelictions pose for today, and finally suggesting what these apologies mean regarding steps to take for the future.

Klima said at the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in January 2000:

In the awareness of both historical truths — that Austrians were victims and that they were perpetrators — and in view of our responsibility for the future, there must be no doubt about the continuation of the critical confrontation with the Nazi past…. Only if we can explain to the coming generations what happened and how it could happen, can we develop in them the ability to resist any form of inhuman ideologies…. We need symbolic acts of common remembrance and collective warning never again to stray from the path of democracy and freedom.5

Stressing the truth once again in 2006, Austrian president Heinz Fischer said in an interview that his country’s 1955 Declaration of Independence falsely represented Austria as a victim of the Nazis rather than as a co-perpetrator of crimes. He also referred to the Moscow Declaration of 1943, in which the Allied leaders asserted that Austria was the first victim of National Socialism. This, he noted, led to a situation where the perpetrator-role of many Austrians was set aside for a long time.6


On 16 July 1995, French president Jacques Chirac finally admitted France’s role in the murder of Jews, whom it had not protected and instead delivered to their executioners.7 This was the more important as his Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand had not wanted to admit postwar France’s responsibility for the Vichy government’s crimes.8

Chirac, when he spoke at a memorial ceremony in the Paris stadium Vélodrome d’Hiver where the Jews detained in the first French roundup had been held, stopped short of an apology. He mentioned the assistance France had given the Nazis in arresting Jews as a step on the way to their murder: “France, the homeland of Light and Human Rights, land of welcome and asylum, France, that day committed the irremediable. It broke its word and delivered those it protected to their executioners.” He added: “We maintain toward them an unforgivable debt.”9

Two years later, Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin was even more explicit. He said the initial arrests were “decided, planned, and realized by Frenchmen. Politicians, administrators, policemen, and gendarmes took part in them. Not even one German soldier was necessary to carry out this disgrace.”10

Mitterrand’s Denial

These admissions of responsibility came after more than fifty years of French denial of its guilt. Canadian Holocaust scholar Michael Marrus has pointed out that, at Nuremberg, most prosecutors spoke in detail about the suffering of the Jews. He added that

there was one exception to the respectful inclusion of the fate of European Jewry. Remarkably, in an introductory speech that lasted for several hours and treated Nazi criminality in the most wide-ranging fashion — and which was meant to deal with both war crimes and crimes against humanity — François de Menthon [the French prosecutor] devoted only a single sentence to Jews, a somewhat off-target reference to Nazi persecutions: “It is also known that racial discriminations were provoked against citizens of the occupied countries who were catalogued as Jews, measures particularly hateful, damaging to their personal rights and human dignity.” The lapse is curious, though not untypical, probably relating to the unease in postwar France and elsewhere on Jewish issues, and to distortions of the popular memory having to do with wartime collaboration and popular antisemitism.11

Beker said that Mitterrand was “a typical example of France’s longstanding inability to confront this indelible stain on its history. In 1994 Pierre Péan published a study which proved that, in his youth, Mitterrand had been an extreme rightist, employed within Vichy structures. Later he changed sides and joined the Resistance.”

Beker adds: “Mitterrand even voiced his opinion that reopening unhealed wounds was wrong. He claimed it was bad for France’s memory and sense of cohesiveness. The press and public intellectuals collaborated with this attitude, both out of respect for Mitterrand and an inability to confront their country’s complicity in what had happened.”12

Trigano says that Mitterrand had a rather ambiguous personality. He systematically refused to discuss this issue, not wanting to admit that the French Republic was responsible for Vichy’s crimes. He refused to equate the Vichy regime  with  the French Republic, arguing that the latter should therefore not assume its responsibility.

This argument — that the Republic cannot be guilty as it did not betray the Jews — was false. The Third Republic’s parliament had voted, with a great majority, to give Pétain absolute powers. He thus arrived at the head of the Vichy regime democratically and not by a coup d’état. Yet it remained inconceivable for many decades that the Republic could be guilty, irrespective of whether it was republican, monarchial or fascist.13

The lengthy denial of France’s responsibility for part of the wartime persecution of the Jews emphasizes the importance of the country’s belated admission of responsibility. This was further underlined by a new, ongoing eruption of anti- Semitism in France at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The Jospin government tried to hide it from the public. The Jewish community, however, missed the opportunity to stress that this represented a new denial of the truth by a French government.

At the beginning of 2003, there were anti-Israeli boycott attempts at French universities. Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy made the connection with the attitude toward wartime behavior and said: “The French university is the only major institution that has not repented its mistakes under the Vichy regime. In this context the boycott [of Israeli universities] by Paris 6 seems even more shameful.”14

The French Church

The climate created in France by Chirac’s declaration of 1995 facilitated other important statements. In autumn 1997, the Catholic bishops issued a Declaration of Repentance. Later that year Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger published a text on the unique character of the Holocaust.

Trigano observes that there was significant opposition to these declarations; nor were they entirely altruistic.

It is not generally known, but it is none the less recognized by the ecclesi- astical hierarchy, that the Declaration of Repentance issued by the Catholic episcopate was followed by a campaign of protest letters from simple believers to their bishops, stigmatizing their Church’s unwarranted action, and denying any Church responsibility for the fate of the Jews. Even Jacques Chirac’s actions cannot be totally separated from their French political context and the need to distinguish the liberal right from any connection with Le Pen.15

Yet admitting responsibility is no substitute for apologies. At a time, however, when the president of Iran and many others, not only in the Arab and Muslim world, unashamedly deny the Holocaust while at the same time promoting a new one, official apologies and their historic weight assume an even greater importance than in the past.


One of the countries that has a relatively good Holocaust record is Denmark. Yet there are also negative elements in its World War II history. As Vilhjálmur Őrn Vilhjálmsson and Bent Blüdnikow note, “new findings over the past decade have revealed problematic aspects of Denmark’s World War II legacy. Having been neglected for various reasons, these are finally emerging and being addressed.”16 When Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke at a ceremony at a war monument in Copenhagen in May 2006, he officially apologized for the extradition of innocent people, Jews and others, to Germany during the war. He said:

The memory of the shady sides of the occupation period also belongs to the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation. This is why I want…on behalf [of] the government and therefore of the Danish state to express my regret and apologies for these acts. An apology cannot change history, but it can contribute to recognize mistakes made in history and hopefully help future generations to avoid similar mistakes.

In an interview with the daily Berlingske Tidende, Rasmussen attacked the policy of Denmark’s wartime collaboration with Nazi Germany. He called this policy “naïve” and “dishonorable.” He condemned the “elite then in power, which was not just neutral, but led an extremely active policy of accommodation, with wide- reaching consequences for Jewish refugees and forced labourers…. I would even go as far as to say that Denmark, by collaborating as we did, allowed Germany to free up resources to throw onto the battlefields of Europe.”17


One politician who has very consciously decided to apologize for the wartime failures of his predecessors is the former Belgian liberal prime minister Guy Verhofstadt. On 8 May 2007, he spoke at a ceremony in honor of the Righteous Gentiles in Belgium, saying:

Today the report…on the responsibilities of the Belgian authorities in the Holocaust is presented as a book. This report states that the authorities were too docile. Worse even, in a number of cases they even participated in the deportation and the persecution of the Jews in Belgium during the Nazi occupation.

It is a black page in the history of our country. We do not want to just turn this page. I want today to repeat the apologies which I expressed in 2002 in Mechelen on the occasion of 60 years since the deportation of Jews from Belgium. I repeated those apologies in 2005 at Yad Vashem in front of the international community. It is only by recognizing the responsibility of the then-authorities that we can build a future where this never happens again.18

In 2007, Patrick Janssens, the Socialist mayor of Antwerp, apologized for the involvement of the Antwerp municipality in the persecution of the Jews during the war. For instance, during the roundup of the Jews in the summer of 1942, more than 1,200 Jews were arrested. The Germans had only asked for 1,000 Jews to be picked up. Antwerp policemen actively helped in gathering up the Jews. In Brussels, however, the neighborhood mayors refused to collaborate with the Germans.

Janssens said this was one of the blackest pages in the history of the city: “We have to admit today that the municipal authorities and the police played an active role in those dramatic days.”19

The Dutch Government’s Position

The Dutch government’s attitude is remote from that of Belgium. The Dutch wartime government in exile in London largely ignored the persecution of the country’s Jewish citizens even when they were sent to their death. Successive Dutch governments ignored the misbehavior of their wartime predecessors. In 2000, the Dutch government apologized for the misbehavior in the restitution process after the war. Yet it has never expressed its apologies for the total disinterest in the fate of the Dutch Jews during the war by the Dutch government in exile in London.

Such apologies usually do not come by themselves. They are the result of the Jewish community or organizations requesting that they are made. The Dutch Jewish community, however, has not made significant efforts to achieve this.

There are several former Dutch cabinet members who would support such an apology. For instance, former deputy prime minister and finance minister Gerrit Zalm said, “I wouldn’t have had any difficulty in making such an apology. If the CJO [the umbrella body of the Dutch Jewish community] would raise this issue now, I would support it.”20

Will the Dutch Government Ever Apologize?

The Dutch historian Dienke Hondius, who has researched the reception of the Holocaust survivors in Dutch postwar society, mentions that the Dutch government in exile in London did not do the little it could have to help Jews. It rejected requests for help from Jews who had escaped from Holland to elsewhere during the war.21

Hondius writes, based on earlier research by Lou de Jong:

The persecution of the Jews was never on the agenda of the exiled Dutch cabinet during the war years. Although the deportations had started in July 1942, it took more than a year and a half before the Dutch government officially contacted the Polish government-in-exile for information about Dutch deportees in Poland. The lengthy delay is all the more significant given the fact that both governments were housed in the same building, Stratton House in London.22

Until now it seemed that only ongoing third-party exposure of the issue might lead the Dutch government finally to apologize. The precedent of the Dutch Railways, as shown below, demonstrates that there is also another possibility: a feeling of moral commitment to do so. Perhaps one day there will be a Dutch prime minister who will present his apologies to the Jewish community, not because he is under pressure but because he has the inner need to admit to the guilt of the Dutch wartime government.

The Dutch Railways Apologizes

One interesting case of apologies in recent years concerns the Dutch Railways. On 29 September 2005, Aad Veenman, president of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS, Dutch Railways), unexpectedly offered an apology to the Jewish community for his company’s behavior during the war.23 Until then, the Dutch Railways management had denied that it would apologize for the services its wartime predecessors had provided, without any protest, in the deportation process of most of Dutch Jewry.

On German orders, the railways had transported the Dutch Jews to the transit camp Westerbork in the eastern part of the country. A subsidiary of Dutch Railways also used Jews confined in the camp as forced laborers to construct a railway line to Westerbork to facilitate the transport of the detained Jews.

Almost all Jews in Westerbork were deported by Dutch Railways in cattle wagons on the first part of their journey to what would become for the over- whelming majority the places of their murder, mainly the extermination camps Auschwitz and Sobibor. Dutch engine drivers drove these trains to Nieuweschans at the Dutch-German border, where German drivers took over. Approximately 105,000 Jews were sent eastward, of whom more than 100,000 were murdered.

Veenman explained his decision to apologize:

By defining our role at that time, we can close a painful chapter in our history. We can now face each other in a better way and with renewed confidence. Furthermore we want, together with the Dutch Jewish community, to focus on the future of our community. For instance, to warn Dutch youngsters about the hatred  and  fascism  that  continually  reappear  in  new  forms. In this way our experiences from the past find a meaningful place in the present. Clarity and transparency provide one with equilibrium. It typifies a mature organization, with an important public role at the center  of society.

Veenman also mentioned that he had hesitated about whether to apologize. “Should the NS today present its apologies?… It can be considered as another contribution to the ‘culture of being apologetic about everything,’ and about a subject that is so precarious and calls up so many emotions, both in Dutch society and in our company. Perhaps whatever one might do, will not be right.”

He concluded: “We are talking more than sixty years after the events. I can only make statements that fit in today’s context. Therefore, from the depth of my heart, and in all humility, on behalf of Dutch Railways I offer my sincere apologies to the Jewish community and other groups concerned.”24

Eastern Europe

Apologies from Eastern European governments require separate study. Since the fall of communism, these countries have developed new collective memories. Zuroff states that “invariably, the first step that had to be taken in the process of facing the past was to acknowledge the crimes of the Holocaust and the participation of locals in the murder of Jews. In many instances such an apology was made in the framework of a visit by the head of state to Israel, although there were also cases in which the local parliament passed such a resolution.”

He observes that these statements were often distinctly unpopular and severely criticized at home, where nationalist and other elements either denied the historical facts or asserted that reciprocal apologies for crimes by Jewish Communists should have been made by Israeli leaders. For example, both [Prime Minister] Slezevicius and [President] Brazauskas were roundly criticized for their apologies by a wide spectrum of Lithuanian public opinion, as was Polish President Lech Walesa for asking for forgiveness from the podium of the Israeli Knesset.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Gyula Horn was sued by the publisher of a local edition of Mein Kampf, who argued that by apologizing for Hungarian Holocaust crimes the premier had violated his personal rights by suggesting that he was a member of a guilty nation.25

Several Hungarian prime ministers have either confirmed the country’s war crimes or have expressed apologies. When the Budapest Holocaust Museum and Documentation Center was inaugurated in 2004, the then prime minister Péter Medgyessy said: “I declare that this heinous crime was committed by Hungarians against Hungarians. There is no excuse or explanation…. Forgetting is the ally of tyranny; forgiveness and remembrance — of freedom. We have a task to search and tell the truth.”26

On 5 May 2005, then-prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany spoke at the Auschwitz Holocaust Memorial Ceremony. He quoted the Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian author Imre Kertesz: “‘Survivors must come to terms with the fact that with every passing year their ever-weakened hands will lose their grip on Auschwitz. But to whom will Auschwitz belong?’ he asks and then answers it right away: ‘There’s no question it will belong to the next generations, provided, of course, they stake a claim to it.’”

Gyurcsany added:

Those who would deny Auschwitz do not only deny the Holocaust but also the future. Let us defend this future, our children, our humanity. I am standing here as a repentant and grieving fellow citizen, a Hungarian and European survivor, who bows his head before Hungarians, Europeans, Hungarian and European Jews. Also, before the memory of your and our loved ones. Please forgive us all.27


Apologies give an extra emphasis in a debate in which those who support the truth are engaged against those who oppose it. At the ceremony on 10 July 2001 in memory of the massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbors, Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski said:

Thanks to the great national debate on the crime of 10 July 1941, much has changed in our lives in this year 2001, the first year of the new millennium. We have come to realize our responsibilities for our attitudes toward the black pages of our history. We have understood that those who counsel the nation to reject this past serve the nation ill. Such a posture leads to moral destruction…. We express our pain and shame and give expression to our determination in seeking to learn the truth. We express our courage to overcome the bad past and our unbending will for understanding and harmony. Because of this crime we should beg the shadows of the dead and their families’ forgiveness. Because of that, today, as a citizen and the President of the Polish Republic, I apologize. I apologize in the name of those Poles whose conscience is moved by the crime. In name of those who believe that one cannot be proud of the magnificent Polish history without feeling simultaneously pain and shame for wrongs that Poles caused to others.28


During a visit to Israel in March 2008, Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov accepted responsibility for the genocide of eleven thousand Jews living in the areas of Thrace in Greece and Macedonia in Yugoslavia, which had been annexed to Bulgaria in 1941. These people were arrested by Bulgarian police on German orders. They were then transported to Treblinka where they were murdered. Bulgaria saved the forty-eight thousand Jews who had been living in Bulgaria proper, despite the Germans’ demand that they also be deported to the death camps.

During earlier visits to Israel, Bulgarian leaders had refused to take responsibility for the rounding-up of the Jews in the annexed territories. Parvanov said, in a ceremony at the Israeli president’s residence, “When we express justifiable pride at what we have done to save Jews, we do not forget that at the same time there was an anti-Semitic regime in Bulgaria and we do not shirk our responsibility for the fate of more than 11,000 Jews who were deported from Thrace and Macedonia to death camps.”29

A year earlier, also at the president’s residence, Latvian president Vaira Vike- Freiberga had apologized for her country’s war crimes against Jews, saying: “We are deeply sorry about the participation of Latvia in the atrocities of the Holocaust.”30


In 2001, Stjepan Mesic, president of Croatia, said to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament:

I am standing before you as the first President of the Republic of Croatia to visit the State of Israel. I am profoundly aware of the historic significance of this moment, and sincerely grateful for the opportunity given me to address you. This is the proper place and the proper occasion to get rid of the ballast of the past, which placed a strain on our relations over the last years. This is the proper time and place for saying what has to be said so that Israel can accept my country as a sincere friend and, I hope, future partner — not only in the interest of our two countries, but also in the interest of security and peace in the region and worldwide. What I am going to say, I will say with complete openness and sincerely, because in this regard there is not and there should not be place for any unclarities or doubts.

I am speaking on behalf of democratic Croatia, which upholds the traditions of antifascist and freedom-loving Croatia from the times of the Second World War. I am speaking on behalf of that Croatia which bows with respect and reverence to the memory of the millions of the victims of the Holocaust. Let me, first of all, repeat literally what I said yesterday to President Katsav: I am using every opportunity to ask for forgiveness from all those who were harmed by the Croats at any time. Of course — from Jews in the first place.

Mesic also referred to the postcommunist period, saying:

Over a short period of time, in the struggle for independence and directly thereafter, the tragically misdesigned concept of unity of all Croats resulted, on the one hand, in the denial of the dark pages of our history, and, on the other, in the search for models precisely in such pages. That time passed and will not come back. We are fully aware of our responsibility in investigating, trying and convicting war criminals, regardless of their nationality and of the time when those crimes were committed. There is never too late for trying war criminals.31

Several other Eastern European countries have expressed apologies for their crimes against the Jews during World War II.

The Catholic Church

A number of churches and institutions have also grappled with their attitude toward the Jews during the Holocaust. Some have made formal apologies. For others the situation is more complex, particularly for the Catholic Church. Many scholars consider that the hate and discriminatory elements in its teachings over


the centuries made a major contribution to the societal environment in which the Holocaust became possible. The issue that the New Testament itself is anti- Semitic has been the subject of numerous theological debates.32

Pieter van der Horst, a Dutch expert in early Christian and Jewish studies says: “The New Testament has several anti-Semitic elements in its chronologically latest documents. The Gospel of John has Jesus call the Jews ‘sons of the devil.’ There is also a case of an anti-Jewish outburst by the Apostle Paul.” He adds: “Toward the end of the fourth century, much-publicized sermons of the church father John Chrysostom combined Christian anti-Jewish elements  derived from the New Testament with earlier pagan ones. These themes were gradually integrated into the anti-Jewish discourse of the church.”33

The Second Vatican Council showed a change in attitude toward the Jews. In 1965, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the Nostra Aetate, a declaration on the Church’s relation to non-Christian religions. Regarding the Jews this text still put blame on certain Jews living at the time of Jesus, while at the same time freeing later generations from it:

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.

In the same text the pope added: “Furthermore, in her rejection of every perse- cution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”34

Reflection on the Shoah

In 1998, the Church’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews published a document titled “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah.” It said, among other things, “We would risk causing the victims of the most atrocious deaths to die again if we do not have an ardent desire for justice, if we do not commit ourselves to ensure that evil does not prevail over good as it did for millions of the children of the Jewish people.… Humanity cannot permit all that to happen again.”35

In March 2000, during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Israel, he expressed grief at the Christian persecution of Jews. He said, “I assure the Jewish people that the Catholic Church…is deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place.”36

In autumn 1997, as aforementioned, the French Catholic bishops had issued a Declaration of Repentance. In 2000, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland prepared a letter of apology that was read in the Polish churches. They asked forgiveness for historical failings among the clergy and their followers, including the tolerance of anti-Semitism. They added that this was despite the noble efforts made by some Poles to save Jews during World War II.37

Protestant Churches

The Synod of the Evangelical Church in the German Rhineland area had taken a much clearer position in 1980, stating: “We confess, with dismay, the co- responsibility and guilt of German Christianity for the Holocaust.”38 Various other European Protestant churches have apologized in different ways.

Finland had until a few years ago the reputation of a country that protected all its Jews except for eight Central European Jewish refugees who were handed over in November 1942 to the Gestapo in Estonia. Seven of them perished in concentration camps.

Historian Serah Beizer says:

Almost fifty-eight years after the deportation, in 2000, a monument to their memory was set up in Helsinki harbor. The then prime minister, Paavo Lipponen, apologized to the Jewish community. It also took until 2000 for the Evangelical Lutheran Church to make an official statement on this matter. This text, approved by its synod, stated: “The church admits to having remained silent about the persecution of the Jews and wishes to apologize to the Jewish community for this…. The handover, even of one single Jew was a sin…more instruction on Judaism and the common roots of Judaism and Christianity…should be given in the parishes.” The church also declared that Luther’s attitude toward Judaism “should be reexamined.”

The image of Finland’s war record toward Jews has changed somewhat since it became known that it had handed over more than two thousand Russian prisoners of war to the Germans among whom were an unknown number of Jews. Their fate is not known but it can be assumed that most if not all perished or were murdered.39

Other Institutions

 Various other institutions have admitted their failures during World War II. In a press conference in 1995, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Cornelio Sommaruga, for the first time briefly mentioned the institution’s moral failure with regard to the Holocaust. He said this was because the Red Cross “did not succeed in moving beyond the limited legal framework established by the States. Today’s ICRC can only regret the possible omissions and errors of the past!”40

In 1997, the director of archives of the International Red Cross, George Willemin, repeated that his organization had morally failed during World War II, when he participated in a ceremony at Yad Vashem where he handed over sixty thousand pages of Red Cross documents to be given to three Jewish museums: Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and the Center for Jewish Documentation in Paris. Among the Red Cross’s many failures toward the Jews was that as late as 1944 it had reported that allegations of extermination camps were unfounded.41

Another body among an increasing number  acknowledging  their  Nazi past is the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2007, on the occasion of its 125th anniversary, it performed under the British-born conductor Sir Simon Rattle. The program consisted of works banned as “degenerate” by Hitler. Seventy years earlier the orchestra had played birthday concerts for Hitler under the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.42

The Debate about Apologies

As World War II and the Holocaust recede in time, bringing memory more in line with history becomes anincreasinglyimportantchallenge. In thiscontext, apologies such as those of the Dutch Railways are of great significance. They represent an unequivocal declaration of failure and guilt toward Jewish compatriots. Such apologies do not end the historical debate but channel its continuation within an agreed normative framework.43

Some critics argue that Jews should not request apologies because deciding whether or not to apologize is a matter of conscience. Others claim that those who apologize are not the ones who are guilty. Although that is true, they do, however, represent the same institutions. Yet other critics say that many of the apologies made — for instance, those during the restitution negotiations — were not morally motivated, but rather reflected political pressure or fear of economic boycotts in the United States.

One such critic is Bauer, who stated:

The apologies of some Eastern European governments are insignificant symbolic acts, mainly designed to help those countries become NATO members. Those in power today are not the ones who murdered 6 million Jews. They can not request forgiveness for a generation to which they do not belong and which did not authorize them to seek forgiveness. Who is guilty? Not they, but those who murdered the Jews at the time. What price does an Austrian Chancellor have to pay when he finally apologizes on behalf of Austria? He is not the spokesman of the Austrian mass murderers, because he opposes their mass murders.44

While these arguments have their validity, they do not address the role these apologies play as potential  anchors in collective memory. Official national apologies will be preserved in archives and become an important source for historians. They will remain well documented for future generations. That is also why they are often opposed by deniers, ultranationalists, and others in the countries on whose behalf the apologies are being made.


  1. Manfred Gerstenfeld, Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2003), 31–32.
  2. Erklärung des Herrn Bundeskanzlers im Nationalrat, 8 July 1991, Nationalfeiertag_1991_Erlass.pdf.  [German]
  3. Remarks by Federal Chancellor Victor Klima at the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, 26 January 2000, documents/messages/klima_eng.htm.
  4. Ansprache vor der Knesset in Jerusalem am 15 November 1994, Wiener Zeitung Online,     [German]
  1. Remarks by Federal Chancellor Victor Klima.
  2. Eva Linsinger and Michael Völker, “Kein Wort für die jüdischen Opfer,” Der Standard[German],
  1. Discours du Président de la Republique, Jacques Chirac, lors des ceremonies commemorant la grande rafle des 16 et 17 juillet 1942 (Rafle du Vel’d’hiv), Paris, 16 juillet 1995, [French]
  2. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Apologies for Holocaust Behavior and Refusal to Do So: The Dutch Case in an International Context,” Jewish Political Studies Review, V 18, Nos. 3–4 (Fall 2006): 35–36.
  3. Discours du President de la Republique, Jacques Chirac.
  4. Discours du Premier Ministre Lionel Jospin, à l’occasion de la ceremonie du Vel’d’hiv Paris 20 Jullet 1997, [French]
  5. Michael Marrus, “The Holocaust at Nuremberg,” Microsoft%20Word%20-%203220.pdf , viewed 13 August 2009.
  6. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Restitution Issues Destroy National Myths,” an interview with Avi Beker, in Europe’s Crumbling Myths, 163.
  7. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “France: Memory versus Truth,” an interview with Shmuel Trigano, in Europe’s Crumbling Myths, 211
  8. T., “Claude Lanzmann appelle au ‘boycott des boycotteurs,” Le Monde, 6 January 2003. [French]
  9. Shmuel Trigano, “France and the Burdens of Vichy,” in Avi Beker, , The Plunder of Jewish Property during the Holocaust (Houndmills, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2001), 178–179.
  10. Vilhjálmur Őrn Vilhjálmsson and Bent Blüdnikow, “Rescue, Expulsion, and Collabora- tion: Denmark’s Difficulties with Its World War II Past,” in Manfred Gerstenfeld, Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews (Jerusalem: Jerusa- lem Center for Public Affairs, 2008).
  1. “Danish PM’s Collaboration Apology,” BBC News, 4 May 2005.
  2. pdf, viewed 19 July 2009.
  3. ANP, “Antwerpen maakt excuses voor jodenvervolging,” Volkskrant, 28 October 2007.
  4. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “De naoorlogse Nederlandse regering heeft fout gehandeld,” an interview with Gerrit Zalm, Aleh, April 2009 [Dutch].
  5. Dienke Hondius, “A Cold Reception: Holocaust Survivors in the Netherlands and Their Return,” Patterns of Prejudice, V 28, No. 1 (1994): /0031-322X/47-65.
  6. Ibid.
  7. See Gerstenfeld, “Apologies.”
  8. Toespraak Aad Veenman, president-directeur NS, Station Muiderpoort, 29 September 2005 [Dutch].
  9. Efraim Zuroff, “Eastern Europe: Anti-Semitism in the Wake of Holocaust-Related Issues,” Jewish Political Studies Review, V 17, Nos. 1–2 (Spring 2005): 63–79.
  10. Yifat Bacharach, “Hungary Pledges to Search for Names of Holocaust victims,” Yad Vashem Magazine, 34, 2004.
  11., viewed 17 July 2009.
  12. Aleksander Kwaśniewski’s speech on 10 July 2001, “Sąsiędzu sąsiadom zgotowali ten los,” Gazeta Wyborcza, 11 July 2001, as quoted in Joanna Michlic, “Coming to Terms with the ‘Dark Past’: The Polish Debate about the Jedwabne Massacre,” ACTA, 21 (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2002), 25.
  13. Yossi Melman, “Bulgaria Accepts Blame for Deaths of 11,000 Jews in Shoah,” Haaretz, 28 March 2009.
  14. Greer Fay Cashman, “Latvian President Apologizes for Country’s War Crimes against Jews,” Jerusalem Post, 21 February 2006.
  15. Speech of the President of the Republic of Croatia in the Knesset, President of the Republic of Croatia, 31 October 2001.
  16. This is  discussed  in  detail  in  Hans  Jansen,  Christelijke  theologie  na  Auschwitz(‘s-Gravenhage: Boekencentrum, 1985), 818ff. [Dutch]
  1. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Origins of Christian Anti-Semitism,” interview with Pieter van der Horst, Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, 81, 1 June 2009.
  2. Declaration of the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions: Nostra Aetate, Proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on 28 October 1965.
  3. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” 16 March 1998.
  4. “Israel Hails Pope’s Holocaust Grief,” BBC News, 23 March 2000.
  5. Mike Fox, “Polish Church Apology over Holocaust,” BBC News, 27 August 2000.
  6. This is discussed in detail in Jansen, Christelijke theologie, 694ff.
  7. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Finland’s Tarnished Holocaust Record,” an interview with Serah Beizer, in Behind the Humanitarian Mask, 209ff.
  8. “Press Conference Given by the President of the ICRC” on 30 May 1995, International Review of the Red Cross, 306, pp. 316–322.
  9. JTA, “Red Cross Official Apologizes for Group’s Stance in Holocaust,” 8 October 1997.
  10. Harry de  Quetteville,  “Berlin  Orchestra Admits  Its  Nazi  Past,”  The  Telegraph,  7 November 2007.
  11. Gerstenfeld, Europe’s Crumbling Myths, 31–32.
  12. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “From Propagating Myths to Holocaust Research: Preparing for an Education,” interview with Yehuda Bauer, in Europe’s Crumbling Myths, 118.

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