Thursday, January 27, 2005


Auschwitz 60 years later: The last major anniversary

I just thought this needed to be blogged, especially as it will likely be the last major anniversary at which actual survivors will be able to attend, as well as for the paragraphs about the difficulties in teach Europe's young Muslims about the Holocaust and the image from the final paragraph.
World Leaders Gather for Auschwitz Ceremony


KRAKOW, Poland, Jan. 26 - Heads of state, prominent Jews, Nazi death camp survivors and a handful of their liberators began gathering here Wednesday in a heavy snowstorm to commemorate the freeing of thousands of people from the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp 60 years ago.

As many as 1.5 million people, including 1 million Jews, met their death at the Auschwitz complex, which included three main camps and 39 smaller camps 40 miles southwest of Krakow. Most were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the second of the main camps, that has come to symbolize the much broader Holocaust in which 6 million Jews died.

The commemoration Thursday, the largest ever, marks the liberation of the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. It will take place at a memorial built between the ruins of two of the camp's gas chambers.

The ceremony this year has an air of urgency as Jewish organizations work to ensure that awareness of the Holocaust persists after living memories of it die. This is likely to be the last major anniversary to be attended by both camp survivors and their former Soviet Red Army liberators. Only seven liberators are expected to attend the ceremony Thursday. All of them are in their 90's.

"The numbers of world leaders coming and the readiness of the media to follow the commemoration is greater than before, but the event is also more important now with a new anti-Semitism building in Europe," said the head of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, arguing that without a systematic approach to teaching about the Holocaust, its meaning for future generations may fade. "We need a concrete commitment out of this ceremony."

That commitment is all the more critical now because a growing number of Europe's young Muslims are resisting, even rejecting, efforts to teach them about the Holocaust, arguing that there is not enough attention paid to the killing of innocent Muslims by Israel or the United States-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Teachers are reluctant to teach about the Holocaust in some schools, particularly in France, Belgium and Denmark. Mr. Shalev said that most of his organization's educational exchanges with France are now with the country's private Jewish institutions.

The commemoration means different things to each nation: for Russia it is a commemoration of its often-overlooked role as liberator, while for Poland and other Central European countries it is both part of a gradual recognition of their complicity in the killing and an opportunity to draw closer to Europe. Poland and several other former Soviet bloc countries joined the European Union last year and the rest are waiting to join.

A recent string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe and other unsettling events, such as the widely publicized photograph of Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party earlier this month and a walkout by far-right German legislators during a minute's silence for Nazi victims on Friday, have raised concerns that the horrors of the Holocaust are being forgotten.

Moshe Kantor, chairman of the European Jewish Congress, warned that the rise in anti-Semitic incidents should not be ignored. "From broken windows to death camps was the blink of an eye," Mr. Kantor said, referring to the four years between the 1938 attacks on German Jews known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, and the 1942 Wannsee Conference at which German leaders discussed the "final solution to the Jewish question in Europe."

At a dinner Wednesday, Mr. Kantor talked of the need to pass on personal recollections of the Holocaust, not just statistics or historical accounts. As an example, he told of meeting an elderly woman during a visit to the Birkenau camp several years ago. She remarked to him that the camp looked different when she was interned there because there was no grass then; starving prisoners had eaten it all.
Can anyone really contend that there is a similarity between what happened to Europe's Jews between 1938 and 1945, and what is happening to the Palestinians now? One can debate the extent to which Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is harsher than necessary, but only an anti-Semite could possibly compare it to the Final Solution. To the extent that Muslims learned of the Holocaust, perhaps it might engender in them some sympathy for a fellow people that was barbarously mistreated. Perhaps they might come to have some sympathy for the Other. Perhaps it might lessen the militant fervor some of them apparently feel, the intolerance, the insistence that they can spread their version of Islam by force and by fear.

If I am mischaracterizing any European Muslims, I apologize. But I do not apologize for believing that there is no similarity between the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think it is shameful to pretend that there is.

In any case, politics should not intrude upon the corpse of Auschwitz. Leave the murdered, the martyrs, in peace. Walk away quietly, and never forget.
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