Bulgaria joined in marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 2016, the day that commemorates the Nazi mass murder of more than six million Jews in the Second World War.
Bulgarian leaders also highlighted the fact of how, in 1943, civil society, politicians and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church campaigned successfully to prevent the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Holocaust death camps.
In a statement marking the day, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said that International Holocaust Remembrance Day had an important place in the calendar of both European and world history, and the Holocaust was a watershed moment in the past, which radically and forever changed humanity.
The memory of this particularly great tragedy has always been part of the collective Bulgarian memory, the ministry said, noting that in Bulgaria, not only January 27 is observed but also March 10, when the country celebrates the day of the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews and commemorates all victims of the Holocaust.
“For Bulgaria the Holocaust is linked to two important and symbolic events: the categorical resistance of Bulgarian society, prominent politicians and the Orthodox Church against the deportation of 48 000 Jews from Bulgaria and the tragic fate of 11 343 Jews transferred to the death camps from the territories of Macedonia and Northern Greece occupied by the Nazis and managed by the Bulgarian authorities,” Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said.
It said that the rescue of Bulgarian Jews was one of the most humane acts in Bulgarian history. “The tragic fate of the Jewish population of the adjacent areas remains an unforgettable lesson for us.”
Today, the world was once again witness to numerous events and policies motivated by ethnic and religious hatred, the Foreign Ministry said.
This fact is cause for serious concern among the international democratic community. “As an active participant in efforts to safeguard democratic values and human rights, Bulgaria purposefully rejects and strongly condemns all forms of racism, xenophobia and hatred.”
The commemoration of the Holocaust in a dignified manner is an important message to young people and modern society, bout tolerance, kindness and humanity between people of different ethnicity, religion and culture, the ministry said.
At a commemorative event at Sofia University, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Tsetska Tsacheva, said that the process of the saving of the Bulgarian Jews was one of the clearest examples of the power and meaning of dialogue between popular representation, civil society and the church.
She said that the active debate that is going on in Bulgarian society about the need to take pride in the work of the rescuers, but also to mourn for those who Bulgaria failed to save, shows how important the issue is today.
“We make sense of the dignity of salvation only if you think about those who were left alone in the face of death,” Tsacheva said.
The memory of a policy of genocide and obliteration of cultural identity means we must be constantly alert to all who again today are in danger of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.
“Today again the traditions of tolerance and mutual understanding are under mounting pressure from a policy of hatred and fear,” Tsacheva said.
In Bulgaria’s National Assembly, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the third-largest party in Parliament, used the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 to issue a public call to Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova to ban the annual “Lukov March” planned for February 13.
The “Lukov March”, held in Sofia annually since 2003, honours General Hristo Lukov, leader of a 1930s ultra-nationalist organisation that detractors condemn as a pro-Nazi and anti-Semite. Lukov was assassinated by communists on February 13 1943. The night-time torchlight procession, banned by Sofia’s mayor in 2015 although the ban was defied, is characterised by the participation of far-right, dark-clad supporters who regard Lukov as a hero.
A few days ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Shalom, the Organisation of the Jews in Bulgaria, issued a statement saying that it finds the recently renewed campaign by the Bulgarian National Union to organise a series of events under the slogan “Lukovmarch”, which will culminate on February 13 2016 with a demonstration rally, “extremely worrisome and degenerative”.
“The past few years presented our civil society with hardships which it had to overcome in a way characteristic of a democratic and constitutional state. Unfortunately, manifestations like the so-called “Lukovmarch” contribute nothing to the perception of our country as having a clear and firm stand against all displays of racism and anti-Semitism, following of Nazi ideology and preaching hatred towards different minority groups.
“On the contrary, through its ghastly symbolic of Nazi salutes, fire torches, uniforms and strict rules, the demonstration rally is reminiscent of some of the darkest periods in human history – the time of the Third Reich,” Shalom said.
In recent years, calls for the banning of the Lukov March also have come from the embassies of the United States, Russia and Israel, and from the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
In its statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Israeli foreign ministry noted that it was on November 1 2005 that the United Nations adopted a resolution which set January 27 as an international day of commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust. This year’s theme is “The Holocaust and Human Dignity”.
The UN resolution adopted was to mark January 27 as an international day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Holocaust, and urged member states to develop educational programmes to impart the memory of this tragedy to future generations.
More than 100 states have officially noted the date January 27 as an annual Holocaust Memorial Day, and Holocaust remembrance ceremonies are organised on the international, national, regional and local levels, including in universities and schools.
“The Holocaust was a turning point in history, which prompted the world to say ‘never again’. The significance of resolution A/RES/60/7 is that it calls for a remembrance of past crimes with an eye towards preventing them in the future,” Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2016.
“I never imagined that Jewish schools and synagogues would have to be guarded, I never imagined a Europe where Jews feel so insecure that immigration to Israel reaches an all-time high. I never imagined a Rabbi in Marseille would have to tell his Community it might be better to hide the kippah,’’ European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, the European Jewish Press reported.
“Seventy-one years after the liberation of Auschwitz, this is intolerable,’’ Juncker said.
“Europe cannot and will not accept this. Attacks on Jews are attacks on all of us – against our way of living, against tolerance and against our identity,’’ he said, as he reiterated that “a Europe without Jews would be no longer Europe.”
He continued, “Today’s Europe has a lot to be proud of but we must never forget where we come from: Europe saw the worst horrors that humans can inflict on each other. This tragedy lies deep in our soul when we commemorate today the death of six million Jews – men, women and children – six million unlived lives. But as Claude Lanzmann once explained, the Hebrew word for honouring the death also means to remember and to recall – and Europe’s responsibility is to remember for the future.’’
For Juncker, “our entire society has a duty to prevent anti-Semitism and we must fight it on every corner – whether on the extreme right or the extreme left or when it is instigated by extreme Islamists.’’
He emphasised that the the European Commission is doing everything in its powers, mentioning the recent appointment of a special coordinator on combating anti-Semitism.
“We ensure that legislation tackling anti-Semitism, as well as racism and xenophobia more generally, is correctly applied across all member states, including Holocaust denial which is already prohibited by EU law. But 15 countries still don’t apply it properly.
“I want Europe to be a home for all communities,’’ Juncker said, recalling that “Never again!’’ was the solemn promise of the EU founding fathers when they rebuilt this continent on the debris of World War 2 and the ashes of the Shoah.”
“It is our moral duty to help those who are in need of shelter, who are fleeing from war, dictatorship and religious and political persecution. At the same time we must counter the dangerous rise of extremism, racism, xenophobia, nationalism and Anti-Semitism.’’
“Never again. Because a Europe of hate is one that we refuse,’’ said Juncker, who was to attend, together with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a memorial ceremony on January 27 in the EU Parliament commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis.
“Remembering the tragedy of the Holocaust is inevitable as a warning against prejudices, intolerance and racism which degrade the principles of humanity and observing of human rights,” Slovakia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, the Slovak Spectator reported on January 27.
In Serbia, President Tomislav Nikolic on Wednesday laid a wreath at the memorial to World War 2 genocide victims, Serbia’s B92 reported.
Israeli’s foreign ministry detailed some of the major events marking International Holocaust Day around the world.
On January 27, 2016 a unique ceremony honoring Righteous Among the Nations was scheduled to be held at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC. The event, hosted by the Israeli Embassy, Yad Vashem and the American Society for Yad Vashem, will mark the first time that a ceremony presenting the medal and certificate of honour to Righteous Among the Nations will be held in the United States.
The Righteous Among the Nations to be honoured include two Americans, Master Sergean Roddie Edmonds and Lois Gunden, and Polish citizens Walery and Maryla Zbijewski, all of whom have been recognised posthumously by Yad Vashem for risking their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. The medals and certificates will be accepted on their behalf by their next of kin. President Barack Obama was to deliver the keynote address at the event.
This year, for the first time, the German Historical Museum is exhibiting 100 works of art from Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem. The exhibition, which was initiated by the German national daily Bild and is being held in collaboration with the Bonn-based Foundation for Art and Culture, represents the culmination of events marking 50 years since the establishment of German-Israeli diplomatic relations.
This is “hitherto the largest presentation of artworks from the Yad Vashem collection outside Israel, and should be cherished as an invaluable symbol of friendship,” said the president of the German Historical Museum, Alexander Koch.
The 100 works originate from the Jewish inmates of various concentration camps, labour camps and ghettos.
“In these works that survived the Holocaust, we discern the power of art in revealing the personal perspectives of the Jewish victims,” Avner Shalev said.
“This exhibition allows for a rare encounter, specifically in Berlin, between contemporary spectators and those that lived through the events of the Shoah. Each work of art from our unique collection constitutes a living testimony from the Holocaust, as well as a declaration of the indomitable human spirit that refuses to surrender.” Of the 50 artists featured, 24 were murdered by the Nazis. Alongside the largely unknown names, acclaimed artists such as Felix Nussbaum and Ludwig Meidner are also represented.
The Knesset will display a Yad Vashem special traveling exhibition, entitled “The Anguish of Liberation as Reflected in Art, 1945-1947.” For most of these survivor-artists, the ability to paint again signified freedom and renewed independence. The choice of their art’s subject and the grip on the pencil or brush symbolically restored a feeling of control, after years of helplessness. The act of painting represented a process of psychological rehabilitation through which they could synthesize the trauma.
Marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged everyone to denounce political and religious ideologies that set people against people.
“The Holocaust was a colossal crime,” Ban said. “No-one can deny the evidence that it happened. By remembering the victims and honouring the courage of the survivors and those who assisted and liberated them, we annually renew our resolve to prevent such atrocities and reject the hateful mentality that allows them.”
“From the shadow of the Holocaust and the cruelties of the Second World War, the United Nations was established to reaffirm faith in the dignity and worth of every person and to uphold the rights of all to live in equality and free from discrimination,” the UN chief said, quoted by the UN News Centre.
“These principles remain essential today,” he said. “People worldwide – including millions fleeing war, persecution and deprivation – continue to suffer discrimination and attacks. We have a duty to remember the past – and to help those who need us now.”
Ban said that for more than a decade, the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme has worked to educate young people about the Holocaust, noting that many partners – including Holocaust survivors – continue to contribute to this work.
“The memory of the Holocaust is a powerful reminder of what can happen when we stop seeing our common humanity,” he said. “Let us all speak out against anti-Semitism and attacks against religious, ethnic or other groups. Let us create a world where dignity is respected, diversity is celebrated, and peace is permanent,” Ban said.
(Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten)