The European Commission used International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 2014 to call on EU countries that so far have failed to approve adequate laws against hate speech, hate crimes and denial of crimes against humanity, to do so.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was declared by the United Nations in 2005, commemorating the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz death camp, where part of the Holocaust mass murder of six million Jews was carried out during World War 2.
The EC released a report that found that most EU countries had not yet correctly implemented EU rules designed to tackle racist and xenophobic hate crimes.
“Member states unanimously adopted the 2008 Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia through criminal law, yet national laws in a number of countries remain inadequate,” the EC said.
In particular, national provisions against denial, condoning or grossly trivialising certain crimes – such as crimes against humanity – remain inadequate in 19 EU countries, the Commission said.
The EU Framework Decision aims to combat in particular racist and xenophobic hate speech and hate crime, and requires EU countries to define as criminal offences the public incitement to violence or hatred on grounds of race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.
In Germany, a number of events would be held on January 27 to reflect on the country’s Nazi past, Deutsche Welle reported.
Germany’s parliament was scheduled to hold its yearly memorial in the early afternoon with representatives from the German government, as well as guests from other nations. Russian author Daniil Granin was set to hold the keynote speech. The 95-year-old writer is a survivor of both the siege of Leningrad – which also marks its 70th anniversary on January 27 -and of Auschwitz.
Ahead of the January 27 events, Israel’s ambassador to Germany called on people not to forget the significance of the memorial.
“The Holocaust is a tragedy for all of humankind,” Israeli ambassador Yakov Hadas-Handelsmann wrote in the Germany newspaper, the Berlin Morgenpost. “[The day of remembrance] reinforces our endeavours that it never happen again.”
Deutsche Welle said that also on Monday, German parliamentary President Norbert Lammert was to meet with youth groups for a podium discussion, while the parliament’s vice president, was to open an exhibit looking at euthanasia under the Nazi regime.
Polish Radio reported that on January 27, 60 members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, were to attend a ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau to mark International Holocaust Memorial Day.
“Seven decades after millions of members of our nation were cruelly murdered by the Nazis, it is my privilege and responsibility to lead the largest delegation of the Knesset, the parliament of the independent Jewish state, to the valley of death of Auschwitz-Birkenau,” coalition chairman Yariv Levin said on January 26.
Levin is leading the delegation after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein was compelled to cancel his participation owing to the death of his wife.
The Israelis were to be joined by MPs from across Europe, as well as Poland’s official delegation, with as many as 1000 dignitaries taking part. The US’s delegation is being headed by House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
In Ljubljana, the victims of Nazi and Fascist concentration camps were remembered at a ceremony held on January 26 by the Slovenian World War 2 Veterans Association, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
From Belgrade, Serbian news agency Beta reported Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic as saying on January 27 that Serbia was “proud of its anti-fascist tradition in World War 2” and it would not allow the revision of history and relativization of war crimes .
“As the Jewish nation has been the subject of stigmatizing, so some historians and politicians today, backed by the media, are trying to cast shame on the entire Serbian nation,” Nikolic said.
The Serbian capital city’s Staro Sajmište (Old Fairgrounds) must become a memorial centre, energy minister and SNS party Vice-President Zorana Mihajlović said, quoted by Serbian news website B92.
The World War 2-era camp in Belgrade, set up by the occupying German Nazi forces, was the place where than 20 000 people were detained to later be killed.
“We need to create a centre that will serve to remind and teach about the crimes committed against innocent civilians, political opponents,” she wrote on her Facebook profile on the occasion of International Day of Holocaust Remembrance.
Most importantly, she said, as part of the Memorial Centre a special Holocaust Memorial should be built, because of the particular importance of this place for Jews in Belgrade and elsewhere in Serbia.
“It is from this place that more than 6,000 women, children and elderly Jews were driven to their deaths as part of a monstrous mission to exterminate an entire nation,” Mihajlović said.
The Hungarian ambassador to the UN said in New York on Thursday his nation took responsibility for its role in the Holocaust, days after the country’s Jewish community accused the government of engaging in Holocaust revisionism, the Jerusalem Post reported.
He spoke at a event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews, sponsored by the UN Department of Public Information for NGOs.
Ambassador Casba Körösi, who became unusually emotional for a diplomat during his remarks, conveyed the sincere apologies of the Hungarian state for the crimes committed, and admitted the state’s guilt in both its complicity in standing by and its assistance to the criminals.
The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) has been involved in a high-profile dispute with Viktor Orbán’s administration over a series of incidents which it believes show a tendency towards downplaying their countrymen’s role in the genocide of Hungarian Jewry.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for unflagging vigilance against bigotry, extremism, and discrimination as the UN marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Voice of America reported.
Ban recalled his visit to Auschwitz – the Nazi death camp in Poland liberated by Soviet forces 69 years ago Monday. He remembered seeing what he calls the “horrific remnants of the machinery of genocide,” and scenes of daily life of Eastern European Jews wiped out by the Nazis.
At the White House, US president Barack Obama said bigotry and hatred in all forms must be confronted. He reaffirmed the US commitment to not just bear witness, but to act, VOA said.
“Anti-Semitism and racism are a threat to our basic values – those of democracy and respect for diversity and human rights,’’ European Parliament President Martin Schulz said at an event marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day he hosted in Brussels.
He spoke about the importance of holding the event every year in the European Parliament seat.
“It was my humble duty to host the International Holocaust Remembrance Day event in this Yehudi Menuhin Hall here in the European Parliament. A place of European reconciliation and peace,” he said.
‘’Holding a memorial ceremony cannot undo the atrocities that happened to so many families but it can serve as a warning, it can serve as a tribute and it can serve as a lesson,’’ Schulz added, as reported by the European Jewish Press.
He continued, “The Shoah was the worst tragedy of humankind. Yet, the dangers and demons are regrettably still present in our societies. This evening we remembered the victims, we paid tribute to the “righteous among the nations” and we say: Never Again!”
The event, co-hosted by the European Jewish Congress (EJC), was also addressed by Greek Prime Minister Antonio Samaras, whose country currently hosts the rotating Presidency of the European Council and Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress.
In his speech, EJC President Moshe Kantor decried those who mock the Holocaust or claim that curbing anti-Semitism is just a freedom of speech matter.“The Holocaust is not a matter for satire. Anti-Semitism is not an opinion, it is a crime,” he said.
“Today, we are witness to the absolute democratisation of anti-Semitism. A simple inversed Nazi salute performed with impunity at Auschwitz, at the Berlin Holocaust memorial, at a synagogue and even in front of the Jewish school in Toulouse where Jewish children and a teacher were murdered in broad daylight by a French terrorist.”
“A symbol invented by a so-called comedian which allows young people out for a drink, soldiers having a laugh and even a footballer scoring a goal, to have their own unique opportunity for Jew hatred.” Kantor added in a reference to French anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.
Kantor also took aim at the rise of neo-Nazi parties in democracies across Europe. “70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, who could have imagined representatives of parties with Nazi insignia, race hatred for Jews and a proclivity for violence marching down the streets of our capitals and into our parliamentary chambers – including this one,” Kantor said in front of an audience of MEPs, ambassadors from across the world and other senior dignitaries.
“As we commemorate the destruction of the Jewish communities of Greece and Hungary just 70 years ago, how liberated really are the citizens of Europe when we witness today the eruption of political parties with Nazi insignia on the streets of Athens and Budapest while we genuinely fear the very real prospect of the strengthening of far-right and neo-Nazi parties in the coming European elections?”
Kantor lauded the Greek government’s fight against the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party as an ‘’example of the defence of democracy which we hope to see replicated across the continent wherever those engrossed in hate, racism and xenophobia seek to utilize the democratic system to further their dark aims.”
Details of many International Holocaust Remembrance Day events can be found at the website of the European Jewish Press.
(Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten)