By: Riki Greenberg  | 

Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Weisenthal Center, Speaks to Students about Holocaust Distortion in Commemoration of Kristallnacht

Efraim Zuroff (YC ‘70), director of the Simon Weisenthal Center, spoke with undergraduate students at Belfer Hall at Wilf Campus about Holocaust Distortion in Eastern Europe on Nov. 10.

Dozens of students attended the lecture, which was organized by the Emil A. and Jenny Fisch Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies in commemoration of the eighty-fourth anniversary of Kristallnacht.

The Simon Weisenthal Center conducts Holocaust research and fights anti-Semitism as well as Holocaust denial. Dr. Efraim Zuroff has been the director at the center for 44 years, an active leader in prosecuting Nazi war criminals and combatting Holocaust distortion around the world.

Dr. Zuroff began the lecture by explaining the key distinction between Holocaust denial and distortion, specifically in Eastern Europe. 

According to Zuroff, Holocaust denial occurs when people claim the entire genocide never happened. Holocaust distortion, Zuroff added, does not deny the Holocaust but instead pushes a fake narrative of the Shoah, leaving out critical details in order to paint a picture of innocence.

At the event, Zuroff also highlighted a specific issue related to Holocaust distortion that is ongoing in Lithuania, where some Lithuanians claim that they had no part in the murder of Jewish people during the Second World War. In reality, Zuroff noted, Lithuanians were major contributors to Nazi efforts, both in ideological support as well as by murdering Jews.

Holocaust distortion is not unique to Lithuania, Zuroff added, and efforts to hide the contributions of national leaders toward the murder of Jews are currently taking place across Eastern Europe. 

Zuroff warned of the dangers of these false narratives and urged students to remain well-informed and educated on the topic of Holocaust distortion. He also highlighted that because our generation has done such a good job showing the world the true horrors of the Holocaust, people try to equate it to other events to gain sympathy.

“Everyone wants to latch their own problem onto the Shoah,” said Zuroff, “and compare them, because it helps them gain support.” 

Zuroff condemned such behavior, and reminded the audience to never forget that the Holocaust “was the worst case of genocide in the annals of human history.”

Zuroff also met with students, Fisch Center Director Shay Pilnik and assisted a Fisch student with their dissertation on holocaust distortion. 

Zuroff told The Commentator that he was happy to speak to YU students about Holocaust distortion, and mentioned that the subject was not widely discussed when he was a student at YU. 

“While studying at YU in the late sixties (Class of 1970),” Zuroff told The Commentator, “I never imagined that I would return more than 50 years later, to speak to the students of YU and Stern about Holocaust distortion. Nor did I ever think of becoming a ‘Nazi hunter.’ In those days, we weren't aware of these issues, nor was the subject of the Shoa anywhere near as important and ‘popular,’ … I took Yitz Greenberg's [a now-retired professor at Yeshiva College] one-semester course as a senior, but that was the only one offered.

“As someone whose grandfather and both parents worked all their lives for YU,” Zuroff added, “for me this was not simply another lecture. My only regret is that there was no Zoom option in Gan Eden.”

Some students, like Avraham Walkenfeld (YC ‘23), enjoyed the event and found it informative.

“[It was] fascinating to discuss the difference between Holocaust denial and distortion as it applies to Lithuania,” Walkenfeld told The Commentator, “especially from a notable Nazi hunter, and in a time of rising anti-Semitism.”

The event, held in room 430 in Belfer Hall, was cosponsored by the Rabbi Arthur Schneier for International Affairs, Names Not Numbers, the Student Holocaust Educational Movement and the Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life.

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Photo Caption: Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Weisenthal Center, spoke to students about holocaust distortion on Nov. 10

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons