ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Now on to that other conference in Berlin. It was not specifically organized to answer the questions raised in Tehran, but as NPR's Emily Harris reports, the organizers said they could not ignore the Iranian challenge to well-documented history.
EMILY HARRIS: Germany formally protested the Tehran conference last week, telling the charge d'affaires from the Iranian embassy here it was shocking and unacceptable to raise doubts about the Nazi's murder of Jews.
At today's gathering in Berlin, the head of Germany's Federal Agency for Civil Education, Thomas Kruger, said challenging Israel's right to exist counters Western values. The conference here coincided with the meeting in Tehran. Still, Kruger said, it wasn't a direct response.
THOMAS KRUGER: (Through Translator) It's a public signal to show that for us, facing up to the Holocaust is part of our understanding of democratic values. It's not about guilt, because the younger generations have nothing to do with it, but we are talking about responsibility. And everybody who wants to live in Germany, even the immigrants, is asked to confront themselves with this.
HARRIS: One topic today was a question that roils much of Europe, how to get particularly Muslim immigrants to adopt mainstream values of their new country. One scholar told of immigrants who refused to participate in school classes on Holocaust history. German officials say they were worried this summer when German neo-Nazis waved the Iranian flag during the World Cup soccer competition in apparent support of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements questioning the Holocaust.
But Wolfgang Benz, head of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin, doubts any strong ties between challengers to the history of the Holocaust in Europe and those in the Middle East.
WOLFGANG BENZ, Host:
They are not interested, they have no knowledge what happens with Jews and non-Jews and how anti-Semitism could be defined. That's not the point. The point is hostility against Israel for political reasons.
HARRIS: Academics here said they're not bothered by people who question the Holocaust. University of London's Peter Longerich says historians are still learning about the complexities that led to the Holocaust and are grappling with the volume of material.
PETER LONGERICH: A Polish colleague told me that at least 1000 books on Polish-Jewish relations have been published in the last couple of years in Polish. I don't speak Polish. I would really like to access part of this research. And that - these problems are the main, real problems. Not Holocaust denial.
HARRIS: Raoul Hilberg, author of the three-volume history "The Destruction of the European Jews," said Holocaust deniers can raise useful questions, although he won't debate them because he says it's never a real dialogue. Hilberg doesn't think laws barring Holocaust denial are useful.
RAOUL HILBERG: Unless you are agitating for people to kill other people, you could express the most stupid facts, you can express incorrect facts. You can do what you want with your language. Obviously, situations are a little different in different countries. If an Iranian president starts talking about Holocaust not having existed, that's like taking a match and throwing it lighted into straw.
HARRIS: He says he wants proof to be convincing if for no other reason than he's spent 50 years trying to understand the mass murder of millions of people. Eyewitnesses to the time are getting older and dying. One question permeating this conference was how to effectively teach Holocaust history going forward.
Emily Harris, NPR News. Berlin.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.