For decades, Belgian Holocaust survivor Arthur Langerman has systematically scoured the world’s flea markets and auctions in search of anti-Jewish imagery and objects. Today, the Langerman Collection is the largest of its kind in Europe and has inspired research and educational programs on the history, spread, and function of antisemitic imagery. None of them, however, was quite like #FakeImages. 

Since its launch in 2021, the #FakeImages exhibition, an IHRA Grant project, has challenged thousands of people – from the world’s leading politicians to school children – to unmask the antisemitic lies that continue to divide and polarize our world. It represents a milestone in Langerman’s lifelong project.  

Currently on display at the Mundaneum in Mons, Belgium, the exhibit has been hosted by the United Nations and the European Commission at their respective headquarters, the project’s curators have presented 360-degree virtual tours to international organizations, conferences, and school classes, and it has sparked training seminars for educators, police officers, and other government officials. A version of #FakeImages has been used by UN Information Centers in Bogota, Dar es Salaam, Lusaka, and Mexico City, with plans for Buenos Aires and Brazzaville. The exhibition has supported the ongoing work of the United Nations to counter antisemitism through educating about antisemitism, highlighting the devastating and deadly consequences of antisemitism left unchecked as illustrated by the Holocaust, and showing how contemporary antisemitism continues to borrow heavily from the past. 

 “There are still requests for tours and presentations coming in, to the point where we need to think about what’s actually possible,” said Veerle Vanden Daelen, IHRA delegate (BE) and Curator and Director of Collections & Research at Kazerne Dossin in Mechelen, Belgium. “This became a much larger project than we’d planned for. Initially, it was just intended for Kazerne Dossin.” 

Credit: Sascha Kleinblatt

Originally built in 1756 as barracks to house Austrian soldiers, Kazerne Dossin today is a memorial, museum, and research center on the Holocaust and human rights. This is because in 1942 it had been transformed into a “Sammellager,” a transit camp for Jews, Roma, and Sinti. Over two years, 25,490 Jews and 353 Roma and Sinti were rounded up and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and to a number of smaller concentration camps – including Arthur Langerman’s parents.  

Langerman’s father, Salomon, died in early 1945 in a satellite camp connected to the Flossenbürg concentration camp. His mother, Zysla, survived, but never spoke about her experience and suffering in Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe. Arthur – an infant at the time – survived in a children’s home of the Association of Jews in Belgium (Association des Juifs en Belgique), the Pouponnière de la rue Baron de Castro in Etterbeek. 

In 1961, as Adolf Eichmann stood trial in Jerusalem for 15 counts of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and membership in a hostile organization [the SS, Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and the Gestapo],” Langerman watched from his home in Antwerp. The proceedings and the testimony of the over 100 witnesses who took the stand shook him. “I wanted to know why people hated Jews so much,” he said.  

He began collecting antisemitica, images and objects that, though clearly reflecting antisemites’ hateful fantasies about Jews and not the reality of Jewish life in Europe, were nevertheless powerful enough to manipulate entire societies to hate. And as his collection grew, his understanding of the long history of antisemitism and the atmosphere that led to the Holocaust deepened.  

In 2017, alarmed at the increase in antisemitic incidents and the lack of Holocaust knowledge worldwide, Langerman decided to make active use of his collection. He donated his archive on the visual history of antisemitism to the Arthur Langerman Foundation, based at the Center for Research on Antisemitism (Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung – ZfA) at Technische Universität Berlin. The Foundation preserves, manages, and explores the collection to make it accessible to research, exhibitions, and educational work, and, in this way, contributes to the fight against antisemitism. 

“We’d been in contact with Arthur for a long time. And finally, the time was right for us to show his collection at Kazerne Dossin,” Vanden Daelen explained. “There was just one problem: How would we create an exhibition of antisemitic propaganda without spreading antisemitism?”  

Arthur Langerman at the #FakeImages exhibit, credit: Bas Bogaerts

The #FakeImages approach to deconstructing antisemitism

At first, curators at Kazerne Dossin thought visitors would need to enter an innoculation lab, where they would learn about the mechanisms behind antisemitism and stereotypes before they would be exposed to an onslaught of propaganda.  

But the memorial museum’s team of education and public outreach had a better idea. They would turn the whole exhibition into an innoculation lab, constantly bringing the anti-Jewish images into dialogue with their history, with other forms of discrimination today, with real images of Jews – shown in all their diversity all throughout time, displayed larger-than-life next to their fake counterparts – and, most importantly, with analysis of the mechanisms behind stereotypes. Visitors wouldn’t just learn about antisemitism; they would deconstruct it.  

We didn’t want to tell people what to think, but rather give them food for thought and tools to use.

It was here that the museum was able to take advantage of IHRA tools, such as the working definition of antisemitism. Using the definition and the Holocaust as a starting point, the exhibition explored the mechanisms common to different forms of discrimination, linking past and present and sparking discussions on antisemitism, racism, and anti-Roma and LGBTQI+ discrimination today.  

“We didn’t want to tell people what to think, but rather give them food for thought and tools to use. The IHRA grant helped us think about this issue in an international and interdisciplinary way, looking at commemorative, educational, and research aspects, as well as how to counter antisemitism, distortion, and anti-Roma discrimination all in one go,” Vanden Daelen said. 

Turning this unique approach into reality meant working together with many different partners from all over the world, something IHRA Grants made easier. “IHRA funding helped in getting access to experts and institutions from all over the world. This brought oxygen into the project, connecting us to other people and ideas. I tend to think that presenting the exhibition at the IHRA is what made it possible for us to get invited to the European Commission and the UN,” Vanden Daelen said. 

Each time we worked with someone new, the exhibition became stronger. Each time was a learning experience.

A key requirement of IHRA grant funding is that all projects partner with an organization from another country. The team at Kazerne Dossin worked with experts at the Arthur Langerman Foundation and the ZfA in Germany who ensured that the fake images were properly contextualized. Educational methods were developed and tested with input from the Media Education Lab (US) and Mediawijs (BE).  

“Each partner helped us think about this issue from a new perspective. Working with the United Nations, for example, made us aware of the fact that we needed more non-Western examples in the exhibition,” Vanden Daelen said. “Each time we worked with someone new, the exhibition became stronger. Each time was a learning experience.” 

Decades after Langerman began collecting antisemitica, and following years of hard work by Kazerne Dossin and its international partners, #FakeImages first opened digitally at Kazerne Dossin on 27 January 2021. Its impact was quickly felt at the local, national, and international level, as school classes and the world’s top diplomats alike learned about the mechanisms behind antisemitism, discrimination, and racism, and the tools to deconstruct and counter them today.  

“To be able to do this in the presence of the person who created this collection, who, on top of that, is a Holocaust survivor whose parents passed through this camp, was incredibly impactful,” Vanden Daelen recalls. “It connected commemoration to history to the fight against discrimination, racism, and antisemitism today. This is the power of this project.”