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The BBC's William Horsley
"The Swedes have set an example in confronting the dark side of their past"
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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 05:08 GMT
Holocaust forum seeks lessons from history

auschwitz Auschwitz: Memorial to the millions who died

By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason in Stockholm

Representatives from nearly 50 countries, including more than 20 heads of state, are in Stockholm for a forum about the Holocaust.

Together with historians and other experts and some survivors of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, they will discuss what lessons should be drawn and how to keep the memory alive through education.

The Stockholm Forum was the brainchild of Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson and received the backing of President Clinton and the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Neither of them is attending, but leaders from Germany, France, Poland and Israel will be.

gold Swedish Central Bank handled gold looted by the Nazis
Organisers insist the Stockholm Forum will be forward looking with workshops on Holocaust education, remembering the Holocaust and Holocaust research.

Announcements are expected from Britain and Sweden on the establishment of an annual Holocaust Remembrance Day to coincide with the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

Some of the impetus for the conference came from a growing awareness in Sweden of the country's own role in the Nazi period. Sweden stayed neutral in World War II, but Mr Persson told parliament last week that they had to shed light on some ugly stains on their history.

He referred to the Swedish Central Bank's handling of gold looted by the Nazis and the failure to prosecute Swedish collaborators and suspected Nazi war criminals who fled to Sweden.

But this characteristic response in Sweden has been the living history project, undertaken in response to racist murders and the activities of extreme right wing groups.

The Swedish authorities have initiated a programme of education about the Holocaust in schools, producing classroom materials and holding seminars for teachers. Mr Persson told the BBC it should be in the curriculum all over Europe.

Doubts remain

The Swedish prime minister also denied that the conference was in any way a diversion from the continuing struggle to get compensation to the remaining aging survivors of the Nazis before they died.

The World Jewish Congress, which is holding a meeting in Stockholm to coincide with the Forum, said all the issues were interlinked.

A spokesman said moral restitution - facing up to the past and promoting education - was just as important as giving financial compensation for stolen property and prosecuting Nazi war criminals.

There are still those who doubt how effective or relevant the lessons of history are. Some argue there should be less emphasis on the Holocaust and more effort to deal with racial horrors of the present day, like genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.

One American historian argues that the Holocaust was so extreme that it has been used as an argument against international intervention on the grounds that later atrocities are less evil.

But the overwhelming message in Stockholm is that the suffering of the Holocaust must never be forgotten as some safeguard against similar horrors in the future.

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