75 Years After Auschwitz Liberation
On the 27st of January, we at FNF Jerusalem Office, commemorated the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We remembered the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War – the genocide that resulted in the deaths of 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
In honor of this day, more than 40 leaders – heads of state from Europe, North America and Australia – and survivors of the Jewish genocide converged at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, which took place on the 23rd of January 2020. The event, entitled “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism” commemorated 75 years since the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp where the Nazis murdered over a million Jews. This year’s event was set to be one of the most important events ever organized by Israel.
Dr. Moshe Kantor, the president of the World Holocaust Forum and the European Jewish Congress, appreciated the presence of the almost 50 heads of state and world leaders: “I thank you for this, because it gives the Jewish People around the world hope, that extremism can be countered with the values of tolerance, decency and moderation.”
The former chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who spoke on behalf of the Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem ceremony, declared: “We can never forget. We have to forgive and we have to behave like friends and brothers. That’s our duty.” He additionally appealed to the “leaders of the world” stating: “The world is in your arms, in your hands. (…)You can decide upon millions of people. So decide for love and friendship and peace forever!”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier impressed the audience with his speech at the World Holocaust Forum that he began and ended with a Jewish blessing. Steinmeier said that he wished he could say Germans had learned from history, but in the same sentence emphasized the persistence and currently even the rise in hateful and violent expressions of antisemitism in Europe. Despite of these circumstances, Steinmeier confirmed Germany’s commitment and responsibility for Jewish genocide to the world leaders, Holocaust survivors and other guests in Jerusalem: “We fight anti-Semitism. We resist the poison that is nationalism. We protect Jewish life. We stand with Israel. Here at Yad Vashem, I renew this promise before the eyes of the world.” The reactions to this first time a German president gave an address at Yad Vasheem were predominantly positive, although Steinmeier’s oration was lacking a tangible approach on how to combat anti-Semitism in Germany today.
Besides Steinmeier, Thursday’s ceremony featured speeches by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, President Emmanuel Macron of France, the American Vice President Mike Pence and by the Prince of Wales, who all expressed their will to fight anti-Semitism. “We have to make sure that future generations remember the horrors of the Holocaust”, Mr. Putin said.
Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, affirmed, “Israel is eternally grateful to the immense sacrifice that was made by the allies, by the peoples and the soldiers, to defeat the Nazis and save our common civilization.” He emphasized that the state of Israel turned “Jewish powerlessness” into “a voice, a land, and a shield”, whereby he referred to the Israeli armed forces.
Mr. Netanyahu addressed his concerns about, according to Netanyahu, the “most anti-Semitic regime on the planet”, Iran. He further called on all governments to “join the final effort of confronting Iran”. Mr. Netanyahu was not the only one who broached this issue, also Mike Pence mentioned Iran in his speech. To put foreign policy issues as the threat of Iran on the Agenda of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Yad Vasheem and related bilateral meetings was highly criticized by media and political actors around the world.
Another political issue that overshadowed the actual occasion of the ceremony was the absence of Poland’s representative at the event. This was due to an ongoing dispute between Poland and Russia over how World War II began in 1939, particularly regarding the Soviet Union’s nonaggression pact with Nazi-Germany. The Polish president did indeed attend the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp on Monday, 27nd of January.
What was intended to be a commemoration of the Holocaust at Yad Vasheem thus turned out to have a semblance of some kind of diplomatic conference. However, in times of little public awareness and knowledge about the Holocaust among Europeans and increasing anti-Semitic incidents, it is more than ever necessary to commemorate the Holocaust and stand up against antisemitism and prejudice.