More Countries around the world honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day with talks, concerts, and services.
The theme for this year’s remembrance day, which is on the anniversary of when Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 1945, is “Children and the Holocaust.” It is estimated 1.5 million children died during the Nazi-driven atrocity.
In Poland, 30 Holocaust survivors were among those who participated in a holy mass at a church in Oswiecim, the town where Auschwitz was located.
In Germany, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert urged his fellow countrymen to fight against anti-Semitism after a recent survey found 20 percent of Germans harbor anti-Semitic feelings.
Lammert said that was “exactly 20 percent too much.”
The German survey also found that close to 20 percent of German citizens between 18 to 30 did not know where Auschwitz was, and 33 percent did not know what country the death camp was in.
Several other leaders around the world released statements today, including United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who said that young people need to be “aware of the important historical events, terrible as they may be, so that they can learn early on of the importance of their words and attitudes towards those who are different from them.”
United States President Barack Obama said that America will “stand strong against all those who would commit atrocities, against the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and against hatred in all its forms.”
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he felt a “specific responsibility” as a German to educate others about the Holocaust.
“The German people of today is not guilty [of the Holocaust], but responsible for keeping the memory alive,” Schultz said. “For me, this means that whoever is representing the German nation has one important duty-to take into account our responsibility for the Jews in the world.”
European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, who hosted Schulz and others at the EJC’s event, asked all of Europe “to recognize evil and prevent its reemergence.”
“If we don’t remember it, and don’t study it, and don’t learn about it, we cannot learn from it; we can never be confident we can recognize it and stop its emergence in time,” Kantor said, adding that “we are witnessing a rise in anti-Semitism.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that his country was “determined” to pass down knowledge of the Holocaust to new generations.
“While the direct witnesses of the Holocaust have, for the most part, already died, the international community has a duty to keep its memory alive so that humankind never experiences such a tragedy again,” he said. “This duty to remember is a collective responsibility. We must reject all forms of trivialization. By remembering the Holocaust we are reminded of the barbarity of which man is capable, but we are also reminded of the acts of resistance and solidarity between human beings faced with the horror of extermination.”
Belgium, who in 2012 assumed the presidency of the International Task Force for Holocaust Remembrance Education and Research, honored Remembrance Day in the city of Mechelen at a ceremony attended by President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, the wife of Nazi criminals hunter Serge Klarsfeld, and Julius Berman, the chairman of the Claims Conference in New York.
New Zealand was technically the first country in the world to honor Remembrance Day, thanks to its time zone. There was a ceremony at the Jewish Cemetery at Makara, as well as an official parliamentary event.
In Britain, a survey taken by the country’s Holocaust Memorial Day Trust found that over half of respondents believe social media must take more action to fight discrimination. 39% said they had used social networks to speak up about something they cared about. 41% said they had intervened in a case of online bullying, while close to 25% said they had done nothing when observing online discrimination.
The trust’s theme this year was “Speak Up, Speak Out.” Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams issued a statement on the subject, urging people to protect the rights of “people like us and also for people not like us.”
“Holocaust Memorial Day brings back to our minds the appalling consequences of a situation when people don’t speak for their neighbor and don’t speak for the stranger, when people are concerned for their own security, their own comfort zones. And when we look back on that tragic history, one of the things that prevents it from being a totally dark night is the presence of some of those who were willing to speak for strangers and to take risks alongside strangers,” he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron led a group of British officials in signing the Holocaust Education Trust’s Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, signifying the British politicians’ commitment to fighting all types of prejudice.
In the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, a small group of Holocaust survivors attended their weekly meeting to discuss the Holocaust. This meeting is the first of its kind, as the ultra-Orthodox have always declined to participate in Israel’s Holocaust ceremonies each spring, ignoring the two-minute air raid siren that halts all activity in the country.
“We don’t come to a standstill once a year, we mark the Holocaust each day in our prayers,’’ said Rabbi Benjamin Kovalsky, the meeting’s organizer told the Associated Press. “The approach is different. This meeting is our air raid siren. Every week we deliver a slap to Hitler with the very fact that we are here.’’
“We stayed alive. We survived. How could this have happened without the almighty?’’ said Alex Seidenfeld, an 82-year-old survivor, when asked the question of how one could still believe in God after experiencing the Holocaust. “The almighty knows what he is doing. He has a plan that we sometimes don’t understand.’’
Elsewhere in Jeruslaem, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum hosted an exhibit of portraits created by Jewish artists. “Last Portrait: Painting for Posterity” features over 200 pictures documenting Jews living in ghettos and Nazi death camps during World War II.
“The exhibition testifies to the tremendous creative drive that moved Jewish artists from different backgrounds to diligently draw entire series of portraits, despite appalling living conditions and lacking crucial tools of the trade,” a Yad Vashem spokesman said. “With just a few lines of pencil or charcoal on paper, the artists managed to breathe life into the images of people in the shadow of death.”
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom published his thoughts in Israel Hayom, writing that International Holocaust Remembrance Day “represents a sweeping rejection of any effort to deny the Holocaust.”
“Anti-Semitism was and is still, pure evil. It seems that many in the free world already understand that this type of malicious hatred, is no longer just the problem of the Jewish people, or the state of Israel, alone. Every citizen in the world is, in fact, an enemy of the destructive spirit of hatred; therefore it is appropriate that every free nation recognize, in advance, the dangers of such hostility and the harsh future implications of it,” he wrote.
Earlier in the week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech at the Special Knesset session marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Against this background, I would like to ask you: can we say with certainty that the world will not sit silently by in the face of renewed efforts to destroy our people, the Jewish people-again, without detracting from the importance of the joining together today of leading countries in the international community to mark the Holocaust of the Jewish people 70 years ago. But because it is today, I must ask how the world responds to the calls for the destruction of our people that are heard today,” Netanyahu said.
He continued: “Seventy years after the Holocaust, many people in the world keep silent despite the statements made in Iran to erase Israel from the face of the Earth. Many people keep silent despite the calls made by the Hizbollah to destroy the State of Israel and despite their murderous acts. Many people keep silent despite the calls by the Hamas to murder Jews wherever they may be.”
The prime minister praised the European Union’s decision to place sanctions on Iranian oil exports, but said Israel will do whatever it has to in order to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“However, specifically on this day of international cooperation, of this important achievement vis-à-vis Iran, I would like to remind us all the main lesson of the Holocaust of our people,” he said. “In the end, with regard to threats to our very existence, we cannot abandon our future to the hands of others. With regard to our fate, our duty is to rely on ourselves alone.”