International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Calls to fight antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion

A common thread in messages on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was a call to fight antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion.

January 27 is designated by the United Nations General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since 2005, the UN and its member states have held commemoration ceremonies to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and to honour the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “On this day, we deeply realise the enormous importance of the memory of the Holocaust and the need for everyone to oppose hatred, intolerance and discrimination. We know and remember what happened, and resist attempts to rewrite history.”

Although the Holocaust is one of the most tragic periods in world history, it also leaves behind lessons of humanity and dignity that prove that there is hope even in the darkest hours, the Foreign Ministry said.

Among them is the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews from deportation to the death camps, which continues to inspire and serve as an example in the fight against all manifestations of antisemitism, it said.

“The Republic of Bulgaria will continue to follow its consistent policy of combating hatred and intolerance, actively participating in international efforts to build a world in which heinous crimes such as the Holocaust will never be repeated.”

Professor Alexander Oscar, president of the Shalom Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria, noted in a post that Holocaust was the culmination of a process that began with hate speech on the streets of Europe, passed into legislative initiatives stripping Jews of their basic civil rights, deportations, forced labor, and ended with gas chambers in extermination centres.

At the end of 1940, with the thunderous applause of almost all of Bulgaria’s MPs of the time, the infamous Defence of the Nation Act was adopted in the National Assembly, a legislative framework, including a number of by-laws, the purpose of which was to limit the rights of Jews in Bulgaria, confiscation of their property, sending them to forced labour, and for this purpose a special Commissariat for Jewish Affairs was created.

For four years, nearly 50 000 Bulgarian Jews were subjected to persecution, emigration and suffering.

“Only and solely, thanks to the united efforts of the leaders of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, public figures and politicians, as well as hundreds of ordinary people, the plans of the authorities to deport the Bulgarian Jews were thwarted,” Oscar said.

At the same time, more than 11 000 Jews from the newly annexed territories of Agean Thrace, Vardar Macedonia and the city of Pirot, who were denied Bulgarian citizenship, were mercilessly deported by the Nazis and the Bulgarian authorities and mercilessly murdered in the death camps, he said.

“Let’s not forget that the Holocaust was the result of a misanthropic ideology that spread like a highly contagious disease throughout Europe.

“This disease is most often compared to a plague that ‘eats’ the human body from the inside. My opinion is that the comparison is not accurate because the contagious disease enters us against our will, while the spread of Nazism was only possible because enough people made their own voluntary choice and agreed to fall victim to this disease themselves,” Oscar said.

“We must not forget that the perversions of Nazism were possible because there were too many people who remained uninvolved and thus became passive accomplices.”

Paying tribute to the worthy people who did not stand idly by, but resisted the Nazi machine and thus saved their brothers and sisters of Jewish origin from certain destruction, he added: “Let’s remember the good, but let’s not forget that evil is lurking and waiting for its hour”.

In a message on Twitter, Bulgarian President Roumen Radev noted that January 27 was a day of commemoration in memory of all the victims who lost their lives in the Holocaust.

“During the dark years of the Second World War Bulgaria did not allow even a single of its citizens of Jewish origin to be send to the death camps,” Radev said.

Ahead of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, European Commission President  Ursula on der Leyen said: “We must never forget the six millions of Jewish women, men and children, and all other victims, among them hundreds of thousands of Roma, murdered during the Holocaust”.

Von der Leyen said that this year will be marked by remembering Jewish resistance and insurgence in Nazi-occupied Europe.

“We will commemorate the 80th anniversary of major uprisings, like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on 19 April 1943, which became a symbol of Jewish resistance and the brutality of the Nazi regime.

“But also other resistance acts like in Belgium, where, that same day, three members of the resistance – Robert Maistriau, Youra Livchitz and Jean Franklemon – sabotaged a train going to Auschwitz with Jews sentenced to death. Others could later escape from that train, 120 survived. There were other revolts that might be less talked about – in concentration and death camps in Treblinka and Sobibor or the Białystok Ghetto. Because Jewish victims were not passive; they organised resistance against the Nazis.”

Addressing the European Parliament on January 26, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called on MEPs to work to eradicate antisemitism in Europe and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

Opening the commemoration ceremony, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola called the Holocaust “history’s greatest crime. A crime intended to wipe out a people from the earth. A crime designed to inflict horror on generations. A crime that has shaped our modern European project, into an embodiment of the timeless promise: Never again”.

She pointed out that the Holocaust did not happen overnight and that alarm bells should have rung long before they eventually did.

Despite the years that have gone by, it remains essential to continue commemorating the Holocaust because antisemitism still exists, and because this is the last generation to bear witness to first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors, Metsola said.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance chairperson Ambassador Ann Bernes addressed the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, reflecting on remembrance in action: “This year marks exactly 90 years since the Nazis’ rise to power. How quickly democracy was dismantled. And the driving force – let us never forget – was antisemitism.

“But 2023 is not 1933. This is thanks to the tireless work of those who survived, who bravely told their stories and inspired so many others to work towards societies based on compassion,” Bernes said.

Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism, said: “Remembrance is not an aim in itself. We must go a step further. We must foster Jewish life. Europe can only prosper when its Jewish communities prosper too. We will work towards a EU free from antisemitism and any form of discrimination”.

UN General Secretary António Guterres said: “We must never forget – nor allow others to ever forget, distort or deny the Holocaust”.

Photo: World Jewish Congress

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