Last update – 19:15 30/09/2007
Spain hosts its first international conference on the Holocaust

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent

Spain recently hosted its first international conference on the Holocaust, as Spanish schools prepare to introduce the Holocaust into their national history curriculum in the near future.

The conference on the Holocaust and its significance today was organized by Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research (IIHR) and was held at the High Council for Scientific Investigations in Madrid.

Experts and teachers from Israel and from across Europe attended the gathering, which ended Wednesday.

Prof. David Bankier, head of IIHR, said the idea for the conference grew out of “Spain’s desire to be part of what is happening in Europe.” He cited the country’s decision to join the European Union’s task force for Holocaust education. Bankier said that although Spain’s involvement in the Holocaust was limited – on the one hand, Spain refused to shelter Jews who had escaped via the Pyrenees Mountains, while on the other hand Spanish diplomats assisted in efforts in Budapest to save Jews – the country wants to be part of the growing European interest in the issue.

Spain’s involvement in the Holocaust may have been limited, but two specific subjects connect Spain and the Jews. The first concerns the Fascist regime of Francisco Franco, which enjoyed the active support of Nazi Germany during its Civil War and continued to support Hitler during World War II. Franco made use of anti-Semitic motifs in his propaganda, but in mid-1943, when he sensed the way the wind was blowing, he opened Spain’s gates to Jewish refugees on the assumption that the action would help him after the war.

The second concerns the 1492 expulsion of the country’s Jews. “The new desire to learn about the Holocaust is connected to the total ignorance about Jews and Jewish history” in Spain, Bankier says. “Even educated people don’t know anything about the magnificent Jewish culture that existed here.”

In attendance at the conference, which was sponsored by the Marc Rich Foundation for Education, Culture and Welfare in Switzerland, were a large number of Spanish government officials, including the director general of the Education Ministry, who declared that the Holocaust would become a mandatory part of Spain’s high school curriculum