Holocaust Historian Dr. Efraim Zuroff Speaks at Fish Center’s Kristallnacht Commemoration

This year marked the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, a state-sponsored pogrom widely commemorated as the start of the Holocaust.

On Nov. 9, 1938, and crossing into the next day, Nazis and their sympathizers unleashed waves of terror and destruction on Jewish communities across Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland (then the northern, southern, and western areas of former Czechoslovakia).

Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Holocaust historian and the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem

To mark the anniversary of those events, Yeshiva University’s Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies offered a compelling lecture on the subject of Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe. Co-hosted by YU’s Student Holocaust Education Movement; Names, Not Numbers, the acclaimed documentary film project; and the Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life, the program featured Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, who as a renowned historian and Nazi hunter of more than forty years, has played a pivotal role in bringing indicted Nazi and fascist war criminals to trial. Among his many published works is Our People: Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust. Co-authored by Lithuanian journalist Rūta Vanagaitė, the book offers a powerful examination of the genocidal murder of Lithuanian Jews by their own countrymen during World War II.

Before an audience of more than 60 YU students and guests, Dr. Zuroff discussed how and why the democratic governments emerging in Eastern Europe since the dissolution of the Soviet Union have refused to confront the widespread complicity some of their nationals have had in the Holocaust. In deflecting attention away from local collaborators’ participation in the mass murder of Jews, these governments have promoted a false equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes. According to Dr. Zuroff, Lithuania has been one of the worst offenders.

Tracing that history of distortion while contrasting East European responses to the Holocaust with those of the West, Dr. Zuroff illuminated a chapter of Holocaust history that is still very much in the shadows. “Holocaust deniers, as in the case of David Irving and his failed libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt, the Holocaust historian who is now United States Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, have been successfully confronted,” he said. “But, nonetheless, Holocaust distortion in Eastern Europe is still very much alive.”

He reminded the audience that as the last of the survivors die off, the quest for justice, reflected in the phrase “We must never forget,” must continue despite others’ persistent and long-established attempts at presenting false narratives in the court of public opinion.