BRUSSELS – No Jew should be forced to leave Europe, the new president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said Wednesday at the parliament’s official annual ceremony for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress.
“We are here to commemorate victims of the Holocaust – the worst tragedy in European history,” he said in the opening remarks of the ceremony, after IDF Chief Cantor Shai Abramson sang the “El Maleh Rahamim” prayer, traditionally recited at Jewish funerals.
Addressing the audience, composed of dignitaries from all over Europe, Tajani warned that antisemitism is not an issue of the past. He said the increasing number of antisemitic incidents around Europe should serve as a warning of the need to defend peace and tolerance. “It is important to remain vigilant and not be afraid,” he said, stressing the importance of learning from the past to avoid repeating the same errors.
Speaking after him, President of the European Jewish Congress Dr. Moshe Kantor highlighted that as the Holocaust was a crime committed by Europeans against Europeans, citizens of the continent have a “special responsibility to commemorate what their forefathers did or let happen.”
Both Tajani and Kantor referred to new challenges faced by Europe, mentioning deadly terrorist attacks across the continent and the rise of the extreme Right in certain countries. “Europe is in danger,” Kantor said. “We must not ask for whom the bell rings – the bell rings for all Europeans.
“Even after the Holocaust, we did not give up on Europe. But today our young generations have doubts about their future on the continent,” he said.
“We count on Europe to continue showing its loyalty to us, loyalty to idea that Jews have a future here in Europe not behind high walls, bullet proof glass and barbed wire,” Kantor said. “As responsible Europeans we feel we must join our forces to defend our common European values against extremism, radicalism and terrorism.”
Urging Europeans to join forces, Kantor named security, education, prevention and legislation, as the key components. “We shouldn’t forget that every global tragedy begins with attacks on Jews,” he said.
“We are here to remember of course...
but also to reflect and respond,” said former British prime minister Tony Blair, who today serves as the chairman of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, founded by Kantor.
“Indeed the Jewish spirit, that I know so well and admire so greatly, would not be satisfied with passive memory,” he said.
“This is a time also to ask what do we stand for today in Europe? What are the values that we are prepared to defend whatever the pressures politically and whatever the cost?” he asked.
Blair proceeded to lay out the principles that should unite Europeans, naming equality before the law, tolerance and respect as the first. “There is no small act of prejudice that does not enlarge the space of prejudice and hatred to flourish,” he said.
“Europeans must commit that they will never be bystanders. To fail to act is itself an action and that action has consequences and the consequence is what we saw as we watched the faces of those who died,” he said in reference to a montage of victims screened during the ceremony.
Europeans must never fall to complacency, Blair said. Expressing shame over antisemitic acts perpetrated in London just last weekend, he said, “vigilance is a necessity and any sense of security is false.
“In this struggle the world is one nation. It is a matter that concerns us all. It is a matter that concerns whether it happens on our doorstep or on the other side of the world.
“We come here today understanding the past by looking backward but with some hope in our hearts that the future can be without hatred, so each time we remember what hatred has done we rekindle the hope of what love can achieve,” Blair said.
Also speaking at the event was Beate Klarsfeld, famed Nazi-hunter and UNESCO honorary ambassador and special envoy for Education about the Holocaust and the Prevention of Genocide.
At the ceremony, the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation bestowed the Medal of Tolerance on Andrei Konchalovsky, a film director, producer and screenwriter. Konchalovsky is the director and writer of Paradise, a film about a relationship between a concentration camp inmate and an SS officer. The film earned Konchalovsky the Silver Lion award for Best Director, and was also chosen as the Russian entry for the 89th Academy Awards.
The speeches at the event were interspersed with musical interludes, and concluded with the recitation of the Jewish mourning prayer Kaddish, followed by a minute of silence.