On 6 March 2018 Ambassador Sandro De Bernardin became Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. He talks about his decision to become IHRA Chair, the role of the IHRA, and his plans for the Italian Chairmanship.
This interview is a redacted version of an interview carried out by Editor- in- Chief Guido Vitale which originally appeared in Pagine Ebraiche. Read the original interview in Italian. Translated into English by Rachele Ferin and Ilaria Vozza, students at the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of Trieste University, interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.
Ambassador De Bernardin, you were previously Director General for Political and Security Affairs and served as Ambassador to Israel. What made you decide to take on the role as IHRA Chair?
My professional experience in these roles as Director General and ambassador allowed me to get to know survivors of the Shoah and to come in to contact with issues such as antisemitism. It was this background and my personal interest in the topic that encouraged me to respond positively when, in 2015, the Italian Minister of Education asked me to lead the Italian Delegation to the IHRA and to look into whether Italy could take over the chairmanship in the near future.
At the moment the IHRA is confronted with the challenge of striking the right balance between, on the one hand, implementing its strategy in order to be more effective and, on the other hand, safeguarding the commitment and sense of ownership of each of our 31 Member Countries. Taking over the role of the Chair is my personal contribution to helping the organization achieve this crucial goal.
How do you describe the role of the IHRA to those you meet?
I would say that the organization is the foremost international network of experts and policymakers working to share best practices and to positively inform policymaking in the field of the Holocaust. It’s a network which allows governmental representatives and experts to engage in dialogue with their counterparts in more than 40 countries. At our bi-annual meetings we have educators from Lithuania talking with academics from Australia, representatives of the ministry of foreign affairs of Austria and Estonia meeting, and the Special Envoy from the United States coming together with teacher trainers from the Netherlands. It’s a very unique gathering.
The organization also allows our 31 Member Countries to establish common positions on political issues which are relevant to us all. Concretely, the IHRA was the first intergovernmental organization to adopt a working definition of antisemitism and we also contributed to the commendable decision of the Czech Government to remove an industrial pig farm which stood on the site of a former Roma camp at Lety.
Italy held the IHRA Chairmanship before in 2004. Do you notice a difference this time around?
The biggest difference I see is the even stronger engagement of the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education. There are big expectations for the Italian Chairmanship. There was not such engagement and ambition in the past. The very purpose of the IHRA is to bring together experts and political representatives working on the topic of the Holocaust and to make clear that the Holocaust is an issue of contemporary political importance.The decision of Italy to hold the chairmanship and the strong involvement of the ministries is a indication of Italy’s support for this idea.
Other than implementing the IHRA’s new strategy, what are the priorities of the Italian Chairmanship?
In Italy we are working on several initiatives, including an animated film "The Star of Andra and Tati” that was a joint project of the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR), Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) and Larcadarte. The animation tells the story of the Bucci sisters who were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau during Second World War at the ages of 4 and 6.
We should also remember that the year of the Italian Chairmanship corresponds symbolically with the 80th anniversary of the adoption of the racial laws - a tragic moment in the Italian history. Accordingly the Italian Chairmanship is planning a conference in Rome on historical models and practices of racial laws. Eighty years after those events, the international community still needs a watchman and sentinels to alert consciences. This is the task of the IHRA, it is our task: to ensure that awareness prevails over ignorance, responsibility over indifference.
Born in Venice in 1949, Ambassador De Bernardin was a career diplomat from 1973-2014. He has served in Kinshasa, Paris, and Ottawa and was Ambassador to Israel from 2004 - 2008. From 2008 - 2010 he was Deputy Secretary General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was Director General for Political and Security Affairs from 2011-2014. Ambassador De Bernardin will serve as IHRA Chair until March 2019.