Germany Cancels Award to Israeli
Historian Accused of Genocide Denial
By Samuel Sokol
December 30, 2021
Prof. Gideon Greif denies that he minimized the death toll of the
1995 Srebrenica massacre in which around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were
murdered by Serb nationalist forces
government has reversed its decision to honor an Israeli Holocaust historian who
in recent years has come under fire for allegedly engaging in genocide denial
regarding the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.
The move followed harsh criticism of the German government for bestowing the
Gideon Greif, an expert on the history of Auschwitz.
“The proposal to award Professor Greif the Order of Merit of the Federal
Republic of Germany was withdrawn. This was done by the previous federal
government,” the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday, referring
to the government of then-Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The ministry mentioned the commission on Srebrenica headed by Greif on behalf of
Republika Srpska, the autonomous Serb enclave in Bosnia Herzegovina. It said
the commission’s conclusions “contradict the case law of the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Court of Justice
and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.”
decision “does not, however, reduce the recognition of the services that
Professor Greif has earned in researching the Holocaust and the German Jews who
emigrated to Israel,” the ministry added.
In a letter to a Bosniak Islamic scholar cited in the Bosnian-language media
Wednesday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier linked the reversal to
Greif’s position as head of a commission that minimized the death toll of the
1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which around 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were murdered by
Serb nationalist forces.
Greif, who is famous for his groundbreaking Holocaust research, has been widely
criticized for his participation in the commission, which also contested claims
by international criminal tribunals that the incident constituted an act of
Greif had told Haaretz on Thursday that he had been unofficially informed in
recent days that he would probably not be receiving the award.
“The fact that I am Jewish and an Israeli scholar is the reason for such
violent, vicious personal attacks,” Greif said, blaming “Islamic Brotherhood
organizations” in Bosnia for orchestrating a smear campaign against him. “It’s a
black stain on Germany. They are murdering the Holocaust victims for a second
The news was welcomed in Sarajevo, with Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic
telling Haaretz in a statement that “no one should be allowed to minimize events
that have been judicially and legally established in international courts.
Denial of the Holocaust and the Srebrenica genocide empowers perpetrators, which
results in the glorification of the convicted war criminals and threatens the
repeat of the most horrendous events in our history.”
Turkovic recently attempted to enlist Israel in her campaign against the
rhetoric of Bosnian Serb nationalists, who have ramped up calls for
separatism while opposing a recent law criminalizing denial of both the
Srebrenica massacre and the Holocaust.
In a letter to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid earlier this month, Turkovic called
on Israel to rally the international community, as long-standing tensions
threaten to further fracture her small Balkan nation along ethnic and religious
“The German government’s decision not to honor Gideon Greif with the Order of
Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany is wholly appropriate,” said Menachem
Rosensaft, associate executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress and a
lecturer on genocide law at Columbia Law School.
“Gideon Greif has emerged as the poster child for Srebrenica genocide denial,
and honoring him, even with respect to his prior academic work ... would have
been tantamount to endorsing his wholly specious and both morally and
jurisprudentially offensive distortion of the facts regarding the slaughter of
Prof. Jelena Subotic, a political scientist at Georgia State University who
focuses on memory politics in the Western Balkans, added: “This is not terribly
surprising as the controversies around Gideon Greif’s involvement in the
revisionist Srebrenica commission have only grown. The German government has to
be very careful about stepping into controversies around genocide and Holocaust
revisionism. Germany doesn’t need this headache.”
Greif, however, disputed that his report minimized the number of victims at
Srebrenica. In a statement, his lawyer, Marcus Goldbach, who was also a member
of the commission, said that “neither Mr. Greif nor any member of the commission
does question the number of the victims killed or the identity of those victims.
“On the contrary, there were two forensic experts who have found that thousands
of victims were in the mass graves and who have also concluded that there must
be additional mass graves and victims that have been killed during the shelling
of the column that have not been buried in mass graves. So the finding of the
report is that not all of the 8,000 victims have been executed but have been
killed by other means.”
But Rosensaft of the World Jewish Congress and Columbia Law School had harsh
words for the members of the commission.
“The Greif report goes to great lengths to minimize the number of victims at
Srebrenica,” he said. “Greif’s and Marcus Goldbach’s much belated attempts to
wriggle out from under their disastrous report are disingenuous at best.”