The International Remembrance Day for the victims of the Holocaust is commemorated on the anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Red Army on 27 January 1945. This year it was commemorated in Brussels by a number of events by the European and other institutions. The Holocaust Day is commemorated each year in order not to forget what happened, to honor the victims and to commit the world to prevent genocide from ever happening again.
The Holocaust was the systematic extermination of the Jews for the only reason that they were Jews. It was not targeted against any specific political or economic group of Jews – all Jews, innocent men, women, children and Jews who had converted, were denied the right to live and were condemned to extermination according to the Nazi racist ideology. It defies human comprehension to understand how the Holocaust could happen in the middle of civilized Europe.
A recent book by historian Timothy Snyder, “Black Earth – The Holocaust as history and warning” shows that the Nazi mass killings took place in countries in Eastern Europe where the states had been destroyed by Nazi Germany and Soviet Union. Jews from Germany and other parts of Europe were transported to death camps in Eastern Europe.
In these stateless and lawless territories there was no government that could protest against Nazi Germany and protect the victims. In other countries, although under German occupation but where there remained some form of government with an independent bureaucracy and police force, the chances to stay alive was higher.
Events in Brussels
The Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Brussels, in cooperation with the Israeli Mission to the EU and the Transatlantic Institute, organized a panel discussion on 26 January on “Current anti-Semitism: something old and something new?” Key note speaker Robert Rozett from the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vadshem told the audience that anti-Semitic stereotypes are still alive and result in denial of the Holocaust and demonization of the state of Israel.
In the European Parliament, President Martin Schultz spoke at a ceremony today (27.1) organized in partnership with the European Jewish Congress. A photo exhibition of paintings by Marian Kolodziej, a Polish artist who survived Auschwitz, was also opened (until 28.1). The exhibition pays homage to Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who offered his life for another prisoner in Auschwitz.
Other events included a seminar in memory of Holocaust victims and those who rescued Jews. A documentary by historian and filmmaker Geraldine Schwartz was also screened. Based on new material from German state archives, it documents Nazi war criminals who fled to Arab countries after the Second World War – often with the support of the Vatican – to train their armies against Israel and to disseminate anti-Semitic propaganda.
In the European Commission (Berlaymont building), an exhibition called “Roma Memory” was opened today (27.1) in memory of the less known Roma genocide. The exhibition has been developed by a French association called Yahad -In Unum, founded by Father Patrick Desbois, a grandson of a French war prisoner. The association has collected testimonies of the killings of Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe occupied by Nazi Germany and identified execution sites.
This exhibition presents interviews of Roma survivors from villages in the former Soviet Union and Romania and witnesses to the killings. It also shows that anti-Roma prejudices still exist today.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker issued a message to the Jewish community on 27 January and focused on current anti-Semitism (https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-16-158_en.htm): “I never imagined I would see headlines like this in my lifetime – Condemned to hide,” he states.
“I never imagined a Rabbi in Marseille would have to tell his Community it might be better to hide the kippa, I never imagined that Jewish schools and Synagogues would have to be guarded, I never imagined a Europe where Jews feel so insecure that immigration to Israel reaches an all-time high. 71 years after the liberation of Auschwitz this is intolerable.”
He continued: “Europe cannot and will not accept this. Attacks on Jews are attacks on all of us – against our way of living, against tolerance and against our identity. Today’s Europe has a lot to be proud of but we must never forget where we come from: Europe saw the worst horrors that humans can inflict on each other.”
“Our entire society has a duty to prevent anti-Semitism and we must fight it on every corner – whether on the extreme right or the extreme left or when it is instigated by extreme Islamists.”
Juncker stated that the European Commission is doing everything in its powers: “We recently appointed a coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, we ensure that legislation tackling anti-Semitism – as well as racism and xenophobia more generally – is correctly applied across all Member States. This includes Holocaust denial which is already prohibited by EU law, but 15 countries still don’t apply it properly. I want Europe to be a home for all communities.”
High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini issued also a statement and joined Juncker in condemning anti-Semitism in Europe:
“Seventy years after the Holocaust, there are Jewish communities in Europe that again feel threatened. So today, more than ever, it is not enough to say “Never again”. We must turn these words into action. Today, more than ever we must inform the generations born after the Holocaust about the terrible events that took place on European soil and educate them to take a stand against anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination.”
The Holocaust Remembrance Day was also commemorated world-wide. In Washington, President Obama attended a ceremony where American and Polish citizens were recognized posthumously as “Righteous Among the Nations” for risking their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. In Berlin, an exhibition, “Art from the Holocaust”, was inaugurated by Chancellor Angela Merkel at the German Historical Museum. The exhibition will be on display until April 3, 2016.
The Brussels Times