Netanyahu with Holocaust survivor 311.
(photo credit: GPO)
Tomorrow marks the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death
camp by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army in the waning days of World War
That epic event provided the world with a glimpse into the potential
darkness of the human soul, as stunned Soviet soldiers came face to face with
the irrefutable depravity of the German genocide against the Jewish
The troops found over 7,000 ill and emaciated inmates struggling
to hang on to life, as well as stark evidence of the extent of the Nazis’
crimes. Hundreds of thousands of men’s and women’s garments, and over 14,000
pounds of human hair, all bore witness to the mass murder that had taken place
there. In all of modern history, the German assault on the Jews stood out for
its systematic cruelty and barbaric ruthlessness.
Nearly seven decades
later, the memory of that horror is increasingly in jeopardy. More and
more people seek to use the Holocaust in ways that dilute its ultimate meaning.
Indeed, the calamity suffered by the Jewish people, who lost one-third of their
ranks in the flames of Hitler’s hatred, is increasingly being pushed aside to
make room for a broader-based, more “universalist” message.
be allowed to happen. However well-intentioned the effort might be, we
must not permit the lessons of the Holocaust to become garbled for the sake of
promoting any particular agenda.
Sadly, a prime example of this approach
is to be found in many of the commemorations that are being held this week as
part of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2005, the United Nations
General Assembly designated January 27 to serve as an annual day of memorial for
the victims of the Nazis. Each year, events and ceremonies are held around the
world with the support and participation of governments and civic
Many of these gatherings rightly stress the unique suffering that
was inflicted on the Jewish people. But others seem to veer off course,
virtually snubbing the victims in their eagerness to battle various forms of
Take, for instance, Holocaust Memorial Day in
Britain, which is being held this year under the motto of “Speak up, Speak out.”
It is organized by a group called the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT), which
the British government set up and funds. Incredibly, on the HMDT homepage, there
is no mention of the word “Jew” in reference to the Holocaust. It requires a bit
of patience, and several acts of mouse-clicking, just to find materials that
explain what the Jewish people endured.
The site encourages people to
sign a pledge toward “ending the language of hatred” which references the
Holocaust alongside “genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur,” as
though it were just one of many. The result, of course, is that those who are
not wellversed in history might very well come away thinking that there was
nothing exceptional about Jewish suffering.
Similarly, the United Nations
has also fallen prey to this kind of approach. Recently, UN
Secretary-General Ban Kimoon visited a synagogue in New York, where he said,
“The United Nations attaches great importance not only to this single day of
remembrance, but to our work throughout the year to educate the world about the
universal lessons of the Holocaust.”
“The Holocaust,” he said, “affected
so many different groups, and so many professions, that it is vital to reach new
audiences with this history.”
To be sure, the “universal lessons” of the
Holocaust are worth disseminating. But what about the distinctive lessons
as well? The Holocaust was first and foremost an attempt by Germany and its
collaborators to annihilate the Jewish people. It highlighted the
vulnerability of Jewish life in exile and the danger that rampant anti-Semitism
poses when it infects the masses. This simple truth cannot be allowed to become
muddied, minimized or overlooked.
Are there moral and historical messages
to be gleaned from the Holocaust? Of course. But there is no justification for
glossing over the distinctiveness of the devastation that was wrought on the
Jewish people. Simply put, the Holocaust is not a talking point and we must not
allow it to become one.
However crucial it is to combat hatred and
discrimination, it should not come at the price of blurring the memory of the
six million.The writer is chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org),
which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish