King Felipe VI paid particular homage to “the thousands of Sephardies assassinated in the [Nazi] camps,” at a ceremony for International Holocaust Day and Prevention of Crimes Against Humanity at the Spanish Senate in Madrid on Tuesday. It was the first time, in the four years since its inception, that a Spanish head of state attended the commemoration.
The King also bowed to the heroism of seven Spanish diplomats (recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles) who saved Sephardi Jews by issuing them Spanish passports: Sebastián Romero, Angel Sanz-Brinz, Eduardo Propeer de Castellón, José Ruiz Santaella and his wife Carmen Schrader, Martín Aguirre and Concepción Faya. People who “decided not to pass human suffering by,” he said.
“Spain provided heroes,” he said, but it also lost blood along with the victims.”
“Sephardies and Spaniards exiled at that time are brothers in land and in misfortune,” he said, referring as well to Spanish Republican exiles – defeated in the Spanish Civil War by Franco in 1939 – who perished in the Shoah.
The king said that it was "our unshirkable duty to investigate, educate, prevent; and to extend democratic values as a guarantee of respect and coexistence. "No society is safe from dementedness,” he said.
The Holocaust, the king said, represented "total defeat at the hands of evil." His words, coming on the heels of the terrorism in Paris, sounded like a serious warning.
“We must learn the lessons of history," he added, "so that something like this can never happen again."
Nevertheless, he admitted, “nothing, nor no-one, can lessen the pain that we feel when we look at the tragic episodes that ripped Europe and the world to pieces in the middle of the 20th century. Millions of human beings were murdered. The memory and the pain still remain today, seven decades after the nightmare ended.”
IN HIS SPEECH, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, Isaac Querub, addressed himself to the king, saying, “Spain is not anti-Semitic, but vestiges of [old] anti-Semitism remain. We must open our eyes to this reality through education, your majesty, and you will represent a better future for Spain. The Spanish people, Jews among them, see ourselves reflected in your values. Education is key to combating anti-Semitism, latent in part of our society and that of Europe,” he said.
“We must be rotund in our negation of incitement to hatred. Jews continue to be targets only for being Jews.
“We learned that indifference is a vital partner for evil and that where anti-Semitism surfaces, tragedy arises.
“European parties and radical Islam have their sights set on the Jewish People. The old ghosts reappear; today not only against Jews, but also against Christians in Nigeria and Iraq.
“Israel was our answer to Auschwitz,” Querub said. “Today it is delegitimized and demonized. Anti-Zionism is used to justify anti-Semitism.”
And yet, Querub concluded, “we [the Jews] will continue fighting for the universal good, progress and humanity.”
IN A SIMPLE TRIBUTE, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo’ said “No hemos olvidado, no olvidamos, no olvidaremos
.” (“We have not forgotten, we do not forget, we will not forget.”)
“The facts on the ground prove that anti-Semitism is alive,” he said, adding that it was not just the stain of one nation, but that it can reside in “any one of us.”
Remembering the victims, was “the beginning,” the minister said, “but not the end of our responsibility.
“[Anti-Semitism] is an attack on our European order, based on human dignity and respect for the differences of others. The situation in Israel can never justify anti-Semitism. The Middle East crisis must not be the excuse for the re-emergence of anti-Semitism," García Margallo said.
Insisting that “we must adopt initiatives against anti-Semitism,” he highlighted two recent positives examples of such moves: the recent inclusion of Shoa studies into the Spanish educational system and the much-talked-of law offering Spanish nationality to the descendants of Spanish Medieval exiles.
“Spain is engaged on a priority level with reaching peace in the Middle East,” García Margallo said. “A peace that will guarantee Israel’s legitimate right to security and peaceful coexistence with its neighbors,” as well as one “that leads to the realization of Palestinian aspirations for the creation of a viable and democratic state.”
THE PRESIDENT of the Spanish Senate, Pio García Escudero, who opened the state act, discussed anti-Semitism, racism, xenofobia, and violence against women, among other evils that are a threat to “all of us.”
“No principle is more valuable than the life and freedom of the human being. Our memorial ceremony today is a moral imperative,” he said.
JUAN DE DIOS Ramirez Heredia, president of the Union Romani, whose people, the Roma, were also persecuted and assassinated in the Shoa, asked why the Europeans do not rise up against any act that violates human rights.
He said the world must not become “immunized against the crimes that are still being committed in so many countries in our days,” adding that “The extreme right-wing rascist Nazi [ideology] is represented by almost 100 parliaments in Brussels.”
Quoting Martin Luther King, he said, “What is most painful is the silence of the good.”
Ramírez Heredia ended with what he called “ a sort of curse,” by Dante.
“Those who in times of anguish take pride in their neutrality, for them are reserved the hottest parts of hell.”