Monday 27 January 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the liberation, by Soviet soldiers, of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland. According to Polish historian and scholar Franciszek Piper, over one million people were murdered in the camps. Although most of the victims were Jewish, many hundreds of thousands of ethnic Poles, Roma and Russian POWs were also exterminated.
Such was the scale of the horror in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, Yale historian Timothy D. Snyder has estimated that one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died in Auschwitz.
Former European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani, said the victims of the Holocaust represented a message to future generations; ‘Never again’. Yet despite the horrors of what took place, anti-Semitism is once again is a growing problem in Europe.
He said, “The people were victims of their identity, killed because they were Jewish. We must all ﬁght anti-Semitism together. It’s not acceptable that even today it represents a problem.”
“We must all fight together against antiSemitism. It’s not acceptable that even today, it represents a problem” Antonio Tajani MEP
Tajani was inspired by the President of the ﬁrst fully-elected European Parliament, Simone Veil, who survived the horrors of Auschwitz but lost part of her family. “As a witness to the Holocaust atrocities, it was not by chance that she was selected to be the ﬁrst president of a directly elected Parliament.”
The Italian deputy strongly condemned the growing attacks on Europe’s Jewish community, stressing that “Jewish culture is an integral part of our history and our identity. Fighting anti-Semitism means defending our roots and our history”.
Another former Parliament President, Jerzy Buzek said, “Auschwitz is part of Europe’s and the world’s conscience.”
The Polish deputy, added “Auschwitz remains the screaming symbol of man’s potential for inhumanity. It is a vivid reminder that the progress of civilisation can also bring terror and an utter decline of culture”.
Vice-chair of the Parliament’s anti-Semitism working group, Sergey Lagodinsky, wanted the remembrance of the Holocaust to be part of the ‘European DNA’.
He warned that “The horriﬁc crimes by the Nazis has demonstrated how thin culture can be, and how quickly anti-Semitism and hatred can take hold in an otherwise civilised European society.”
The horrors needed to be remembered as a legacy to the children and grandchildren of the surviving Jews, Roma and other victims.
“We have to keep this memory alive, especially as our contemporary witnesses will not be there forever to teach us what happened” Nicola Beer MEP
“We owe it to all of us; without coming to terms with the horriﬁc crimes of the past, we cannot build a common future. I would have wished that the Parliament went beyond the usual rituals and held a special plenary discussion on the same day”.
According to Lagodinsky, the best response to the past was to invest in a secure future, by combatting anti-Semitism.
He wanted to see Member States rigorously implement the EU Council declaration on anti-Semitism. “It’s is important to remember that anti-Semitism is not limited to its historical Nazi forms.
S&D Italian deputy Brando Benifei, like Lagodinsky, wanted to see the Union do more, saying “The EU must stand against any form of anti-Semitism or discrimination. This anniversary is not just a matter of historical memory, rather it reminds us that the forces of racism are rising again in Europe and are interlinked. Our duty is to ﬁght for an open society”.
Swedish centre-right deputy David Lega said that the anniversary was rightly a reminder of the horrors and mass killings of WWII and were among the worst crimes against humanity.
However, “The creation of the EU is the very evidence of Hitler’s failure. Its mere existence is, in fact, the guarantee that nothing similar will ever happen again in Europe”.
But as the years progress and the number of living survivors fall, German deputy Nicola Beer said, “We have to keep this memory alive, especially as our contemporary witnesses will not be there forever to teach us what happened.”
The vice-chair of the anti-Semitism working group wanted to see greater exchanges between Jewish and non-Jewish communities, as well as well better training for judges, police and other people in important positions to detect antisemitism in all its guises.
In a joint statement from the three Presidents of the EU institutions, Charles Michel, David Sassoli, and Ursula von der Leyen highlighted how historic revisionism and lack of education was threating the understanding and uniqueness of the Shoah, the Hebrew term for the holocaust.
They recognised the growing rise of Alt-Right wing parties saying, “We add our voices to those who are determined to not let extremists and populists go unchallenged when they are trying to cross boundaries and question – once again – human dignity and equality of all”.