Nations and Jewish communities around the globe are set to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday with ceremonies and memorials coinciding with the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama will attend a ceremony at the Israeli Embassy posthumously honoring four Righteous Among the Nations – non- Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust and are recognized by Israel's Yad Vashem.
“The US president has not been at the embassy in the US for many years,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting, calling the event “another testament that the US-Israel relationship... is very strong and stable” despite disagreements between the two states.
Among those being honored is US Army master-sergeant Roddie Edmonds (died 1985), from Knoxville, Tennessee, who, when imprisoned in a German POW camp, refused to identify Jewish soldiers under his command, telling the camp commandant: “We are all Jews.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, in a message to European Jewry on Tuesday: “I never imagined a rabbi in Marseille would have to tell his community it might be better to hide the kippa, 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. Seventy-one years after the liberation of Auschwitz, this is intolerable.”
Saying that Europe cannot accept the rising anti-Semitism that is driving many to flee the continent, Juncker stated that it is the “moral duty” of Europeans to aid those seeking shelter and refuge, but that at the same time it is imperative to “counter the dangerous rise of extremism, racism, xenophobia, nationalism and anti-Semitism.
“We are determined: Never again. Because a Europe of hate is one that we refuse. Because a Europe without Jews would be no longer Europe,” he said.
Earlier this month, a representative of the Jewish community of Hamburg said Jews are “no longer safe” in Germany, while a representative of the Jewish community of Marseilles called on French Jews to hide their identities by not wearing yarmulkes in public.
The national leaders of the Jewish community in Germany for some time have hedged their support for the absorption of Middle Eastern migrants with warnings that they come from societies in which anti-Semitism is accepted and promoted.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her podcast on Saturday, said anti-Semitism in Germany is “more widespread than we imagine,” citing schools, social media and legal measures.
She called on refugees to reject anti-Semitism.
On Monday, Merkel opened the biggest exhibition of Holocaust art outside Israel in Berlin.
The “Art from the Holocaust” show features 100 works from Yad Vashem, which were created by Jewish inmates at concentration camps, labor camps and ghettos during the time of the Third Reich. Of the 50 artists featured in the exhibition, the Nazis killed 24.
“The millions of individual stories during the Shoah remain deeply rooted in our national conscience,” Merkel said at the opening of the show at the German Historical Museum.
In Poland, President Andrzej Duda, along with his Croatian counterpart, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, is expected to attend the ceremony at the Auschwitz memorial. Dozens of survivors and their relatives will be on hand for Wednesday’s commemoration.
Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. The United Nations has designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Remembering all the victims, in a special way, during the upcoming anniversary, we want to mention people who, despite enormous trauma, attempted to return to normal life,” said Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz Museum.
Last week, the Vatican issued a statement saying the memorial day “calls for a universal and ever deeper respect for the dignity of every person,” Radio Vatican reported.
“In remembering the Holocaust, we also remember that unless all men and women are recognized as one great family and unless we coexist with both neighbor and stranger, inhumanity awaits us,” Vatican representative to the OSCE Monsignor Janusz Urbanczyk said, adding that the commemoration “serves as a warning to prevent us from yielding to ideologies that justify contempt for human dignity.”
On Tuesday, World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer thanked UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova for condemning just such contempt for human dignity when she came out against an Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest, saying he was “glad she will take this up with Iran’s President Rouhani when the two meet in Paris on Wednesday.”
This is the third such event the Islamic Republic has sponsored.
“It’s symbolic that this meeting takes place on the very day the world remembers the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 2016, and the mass murder of six million Jews, which is still being questioned by so many Iranian leaders,” Singer said.
Separate events and ceremonies marking the day will take place both at UNESCO headquarters in Paris and at the United Nations complex in New York on Wednesday.
Jews are now “living in difficult times,” WJC President Ronald Lauder said in a separate statement. The mantra “Never again” must not be “just a slogan” he said, calling on the international community to “defeat ISIS and similar groups carrying out acts of brutal mass slaughter of people.”
Lauder said it is just as important to take care of the remaining survivors as it is to memorialize the fallen, citing the “dire situation that so many survivors are facing” with around half of survivors living in poverty.
To mark the day, Slovakia has announced the opening of a museum at the Sered Labor and Concentration Camp. In Israel, Holocaust survivors will meet and connect with youths at an event at the Tel Aviv Port.
Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office has released a list of 10 accused Nazi war criminals “slated for possible prosecution” this year.
Chief Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff compiled the list, “which includes individuals who committed crimes in Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, Greece and Italy in the course of which hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered,” the center said.
Included on the list are Auschwitz radio operator Helma Kisser and medic Hubert Zafke.
In 2014, Germany lowered the evidentiary bar for prosecution of war crimes. While previously “evidence of a specific crime against a specific victim” had been required, evidence of service in a camp is now sufficient, paving the way for a more vigorous approach to prosecuting Nazi crimes.
“This list is only the tip of the iceberg of individuals who are still alive and can be prosecuted for their service with the forces of the Third Reich and its allies,” Zuroff said.
“In this respect, the passage of time in no way diminishes the guilt of the killers, old age should not afford protection to those who committed such heinous crimes, and our obligation to the victims of the Nazis is to make a serious effort to find those who victimized innocent men, women and children, some of whom were older than the criminals are today.”
Also on Tuesday, Zuroff launched his new book, Our People; Journey With an Enemy, in Lithuania. Co-authored with Ruta Vanagaite, the writers accuse the current Lithuanian government of trying to “hide or minimize the role of Lithuanian collaborators during the Holocaust.”