A full week of meetings commemorating the Wannsee Conference in Berlin and the victims of the Holocaust came to a climax in Brussels on Tuesday night, when the newly-elected President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, gave an official speech. In his speech, one of the first as a newly-elected president, he stated that ”his first obligation as President of the European Parliament is to defend the Jewish people and the State of Israel.” The statement came in his opening address at the 8th Annual Holocaust Remembrance Day in the European Parliament, co-organized by the European Coalition for Israel.
The new president spoke from personal experience when he said that ”Germans born after the war are not guilty of what happened 70 years ago, but nevertheless responsible for remembering and passing on the remembrance to the next generation”. In a private interview with ECI on Tuesday night he explained that ”anti-Semitism is still very much an issue that needs to be monitored in Europe”. Earlier in the week he had taken measures to ban Holocaust denial in the European Parliament, a decision that was criticised by some, but applauded by others.
Schulz was accompanied by his two predecessors, former President Jerzy Buzek, who also spoke at the event, and previous President Hans-Gert Pöttering, who was the first president to give the event official backing.
In his speech, Israeli Minister of Public Diplomacy, Yuli Edelstein, addressed the clear and present danger from Iran, saying that ”what Israel needs now is not more meetings, but a firm commitment from the world community to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
-“ The Holocaust did not start with the first train to Auschwitz, but long before, with hate speech and demonisation of a whole people group, which finally led to actions”, he said. “The train to Auschwitz could have been stopped in 1938 in Evian or in Munich, but the world community failed to act. He urged the European Union to learn the lessons and take firm actions now to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities. In a separate speech the current President of the European Jewish Congress, Moshe Kantor, struck a slightly more optimistic note, in that he applauded the European Union for blacklisting the Iranian Central Bank and banning the trade of Iranian gold and diamonds. As of July 1st, EU countries will no longer buy Iranian crude oil, worth about 20 per cent of its exports.
Over the weekend, meetings commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Wannsee Conference were also organised in Berlin by ECI chairman Harald Eckert and the German ”Initiative January 27”.
Former OSCE Chairman of the Conference Against Anti-Semitism, Professor Gert Weisskirchen, said that ”70 years ago the gates of hell were opened in Wannsee, Berlin, and it is our duty now to close the gates and guard them diligently.” Weisskirchen was one of many prominent speakers, including Holocaust survivors, to warn against the loss of collective memory of the Holocaust. In a recent survey published this week in the magazine Stern, it was concluded that over 20 per cent of German youth have never heard of Auschwitz. In a separate survey as many as 20 per cent of the German population was said to be ”secretively anti-Semitic.”
In her speech in the Französiche Dom in Berlin, former President of the German Bundestag,Rita Süssmuth, spoke along the same lines as Minister Edelstein when she stated that ”the Holocaust started with dangerous words and ideas – the rest was pure implementation. To stop another genocide we need to combat these same words and ideas in time and not wait until it is too late.”
The uniform message from Brussels and Berlin was that we have a responsibility to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to the next generation. ECI chairman Harald Eckert was honoured with an award from Holocaust survivors in Israel. In his thank you speech, he reiterated his message given in the Israeli Knesset in November that ”ECI will now step up its efforts to fight anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial by launching a three year campaign.”
The official Holocaust Remembrance Day will be commemorated around the world today, on Friday January 27th. On Sunday, January 29th, local churches across Europe will take part in the ECI campaign ”Learn from History” by commemorating the victims of the Holocaust in their Sunday services.