The European Parliament has marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a solemn ceremony during a short plenary session in Brussels on Thursday.
In the presence of as many MEPs as were allowed in the chamber under current Covid regulations, and with the presidents of the other two EU institutions, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, Parliament’s new President Roberta Metsola said:
“The horrors of Auschwitz are unspeakable, but we must speak” adding that on this day, “we remember crimes against humanity committed in the past but we also remember the importance to speak up in the present… because despite decades of efforts we have not yet done enough to combat discrimination.”
Metsola pledged that the Parliament would, “always take the side of respect, the side of human dignity, the side of equality. The European Parliament will never be silent.”
"We remember crimes against humanity committed in the past but we also remember the importance to speak up in the present."
Roberta Metsola, EP President
At the centre of the ceremony was the testimony of Jewish Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer.
She recounted the events leading to the arrest of her brother in 1942 in Berlin and her mother giving herself up to the Gestapo to be with him. Friedländer would never see them again, they were murdered in Auschwitz.
After hiding for a year and a half herself, she was finally caught and sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Theresienstadt in 1944 which she survived, admitting to not knowing how to this day.
She asked her audience to “become the witnesses which we cannot be for much longer” and, addressing MEPs directly, she said “you represent millions of people on this continent; you are their democratically elected representatives. This is a big responsibility, as we are facing big challenges.”
The centenarian campaigner mentioned how she is observing “with great disquiet” how the Holocaust and the Nazi’s war of conquest and destruction seemed to be more and more consigned to oblivion.
"I ask you to become the witnesses which we cannot be for much longer."
Margot Friedländer, Holocaust survivor
With reference to recent demonstrations against Covid measures and vaccination, she added that she “watched in disbelief how symbols of our discrimination by the Nazis, the so called “Judenstern” in particular, are shamelessly used today by enemies of democracy in broad daylight to portray themselves as victims.”
She concluded that what she had experienced, humans denying other humans their humanity, “first, to discriminate against them, then to pilfer them and to burn down their places of worship and finally to murder them” must never happen again.
“This is why we have stay alert and never, like it happened then, look away.”
In their responses, the presidents of the Council on of the Commission expressed their gratitude to, and admiration of, Margot Friedländer.
Charles Michel stated that her courage to bear witness “forces each citizen, each of us here today, to reflect on our own commitment to defend and improve the society and the world we live in.”
As the unimaginable crime of the Shoa was perpetrated “on European soil, by Europeans against fellow Europeans, the result of unbridled hatred, we Europeans are all heirs to this history, and the guardians of this, our memory”, Michel insisted, adding that this guardianship was becoming “more consequential” with the passing of time.
"Your courage to bear witness forces each citizen, each of us here today, to reflect on our own commitment to defend and improve the society and the world we live in."
Charles Michel, European Council President
Ursula von der Leyen called the testimony of Holocaust survivors “the greatest act of love for us and for future generations” which “makes us free and makes us see how freedom is built on the memory of the Holocaust”.
Margot Friedländer, von der Leyen explained, had left Germany after the war for obvious reasons “but then, 20 years ago you decided to come back, even if the memory was still alive, in fact, precisely because the memory had to remain alive. You came back so that history could never come back”.