On March 24, 2014 the International Institute for Holocaust Research of Yad Vashem hosted an international conference entitled "Judeo-Bolshevism": The Crystallization of an Antisemitic Political Concept. The conference was made possible through the generous support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Gutwirth Family Fund, and was dedicated to the exploration of the roots and development of one of the most pernicious myths that laid the ideological and psychological foundations of the Holocaust – the association of the Jewish people with communist ideas and practices, as proof of their eternal enmity towards “orderly” Christian society, based on traditional morals and property rights.
Eight prominent scholars researching the issues of antisemitism and inter-ethnic relations, from the US, the Netherlands, Poland, the UK and Israel, took part in the conference. The scholarly gathering, examining a topic that has never been discussed in such a broad forum before, was attended by over 200 people, including H.E. Mr. Jacek Chodorowicz, Polish Ambassador to Israel, H.E. Mr. Andris Vilcans, Latvian Ambassador to Israel, representatives from the embassies of Lithuania and Ukraine in Israel, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Mr. Avner Shalev, Director-General of Yad Vashem Ms. Dorit Novak, Ms. Sana Britavsky, Executive Director of the Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel, Ms. Naomi Ben-Ami, Head of Nativ (the Liaison Bureau), Prof. Yehuda Bauer and leading professors from Israeli universities, and program directors from the AJJDC and the Jewish Agency.
The conference was opened by Prof. Dan Michman, Head of Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research. Conference participants were greeted by Ms. Sana Britavsky, Executive Director of the Genesis Philanthropy Group in Israel, who said:
“The discussion about the history and the consequences of this bloody legend is important – both for the understanding of the particular brutality and ferocity of extermination of the Soviet Jews in the first months of the German invasion, and for combating and preventing similar hateful myths from arising and spreading in the modern world – against the Jews as against any others.”
The first plenary session, The Identification of “Jews” with “Bolshevism”: The Emergence of a Myth was chaired by Dr. Arkadi Zeltser, Director of the Center for Research on the History of Soviet Jews during the Holocaust at the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem. This session explored theoretical issues connected with the creation of the antisemitic myth, and the reasons underlying the popularity of Judeo-Bolshevist ideas in the period between the two World Wars and during WWII. This was the focus of the lectures delivered by Prof. André Gerrits (Russian Politics and History at Leiden University, Netherlands) and Prof. Zvi Gitelman (Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor). The presentation by Dr. Daniel Uziel (Yad Vashem) was dedicated to the ways in which Nazi propaganda utilized these ideas to strengthen antisemitic sentiment among Wehrmacht soldiers.
In his presentation Prof. Zvi Gitelman noted:
"The 'Judeo-Bolshevik' myth contains at least five rationales for hostility toward the Jews: they are aliens, foreigners; they are subversive and dangerous; they are anti-Christian; Jews are internationalists rather than patriots; and they threaten the economic foundations of society. All these traits are attributed to Communists as well. For those so inclined, this proves that the Jewish and Communist conspiracies are either the same or very closely related."
The second session, chaired by Prof. Dina Porat, Chief Historian of Yad Vashem, was dedicated to the specific examples of antisemitism resulting from the spread of "Judeo-Bolshevist" ideas in Lithuania (Prof. Christoph Dieckmann, Keele University, Staffordshire), Latvia (Dr. Aron Shneyer, Yad Vashem) and Poland (Prof. Paweł Śpiewak, Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw). Following the presentations, a lively discussion took place. One of the central topics of the discussion was the degree to which "Judeo-Bolshevist" ideas were based on the actual participation of Jews in the Communist movement, and to what extent they reflected a general antisemitic approach with no connection to reality.